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MYSTICISM 






MYSTICISM 



A STUDY 
THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF 
MAN'S SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS 



BY 

EVELYN UNDERHILL 

AUTHOR OF "THE GREY WORLD," "THE COLUMN OF DUST," ETC. 



THIRD EDITION, REVISED 



NEW YORK 

E. P, DUTTON AND COMPANY 

31 West Twenty-third Street 

1912 *y 




IN HONOREM 
OMNIUM ANIMARUM MYSTICARUM 



Lume e lassu, che visibile face 
lo Creatore a quella creatura 
che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace. 
Par. xxx. ioo 

" When love has carried us above all things ... we receive in 
peace the Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us and penetrating us. 
What is this Light, if~it be not a contemplation of the Infinite, 
and an intuition of Eternity? We behold that which we are, and 
we are that which we behold; because our being, without losing 
anything of its own personality, is united with the Divine Truth." 

RUYSBROECK 

" Man is the meeting-point of various stages of Reality." 

Rudolph Eucken 



PREFACE 

THIS book falls naturally into two parts; each of which 
is really complete in itself, though they are in a sense 
complementary to one another. Whilst the second 
and longest part contains a somewhat detailed study of the 
nature and development of man's spiritual or mystical con- 
sciousness, the first is intended rather to provide an introduction 
to the general subject of mysticism. Exhibiting it by turns 
from the point of view of metaphysics, psychology, and 
symbolism, it is an attempt to gather between the covers of 
one volume information at present scattered amongst many 
monographs and text-books written in divers tongues, and to 
give the student in a compact form at least the elementary facts 
in regard to each of those subjects which are most closely con- 
nected with the study of the mystics. 

Those mystics, properly speaking, can only be studied in 
their works : works which are for the most part left unread by 
those who now talk much about mysticism. Certainly the general 
reader has this excuse, that the masterpieces of mystical litera- 
ture, full of strange beauties though they be, offer considerable 
difficulties to those who come to them unprepared. In the 
first seven chapters of this book I have tried to remove a few of 
these difficulties ; to provide the necessary preparation ; and to 
exhibit the relation in which mysticism stands to other forms of 
life. If, then, the readers of this section are enabled by it to 
come to the encounter of mystical literature with a greater 
power of sympathetic comprehension than they previously 
possessed, it will have served the purpose for which it has been 
composed. 

It is probable that almost every such reader, according to 

vii 



viii MYSTICISM 

the angle from which he approaches the subject, will here find a 
good deal which seems to him superfluous. But different types 
of mind will find this unnecessary elaboration in different places. 
The psychologist, approaching from the scientific standpoint, 
eager for morbid phenomena, has little use for disquisitions on 
symbolism, religious or other. The symbolist, approaching 
from the artistic standpoint, seldom admires the proceedings of 
psychology. I believe, however, that none who wish to obtain 
an idea of mysticism in its wholeness, as a form of life, can 
afford to neglect any of the aspects on which these pages venture 
to touch. The metaphysician and the psychologist are unwise 
if they do not consider the light thrown upon the ideas of the 
mystics by their attitude towards orthodox theology. The 
theologian is still more unwise if he refuse to hear the evidence 
of psychology. For the benefit of those whose interest in 
mysticism is chiefly literary, and who may care to be provided 
with a clue to the symbolic and allegorical element in the 
writings of the contemplatives, a short sectionon those symbols 
of which they most often make use has been added. Finally 
the persistence amongst us of the false opinion which confuses 
mysticism with occult philosophy and psychic phenomena, has 
made it necessary to deal with the vital distinction which exists 
between it and every form of magic. 

Specialists in any of these great departments of knowledge 
will probably be disgusted by the elementary and superficial 
manner in which their specific sciences are here treated. But 
this book does not venture to address itself to specialists. 
From those who are already fully conversant with the matters 
touched upon, it asks the indulgence which really kindhearted 
adults are always ready to extend towards the efforts of 
youth. Philosophers are earnestly advised to pass over the first 
two chapters, and theologians to practise the same charity in 
respect of the section dealing with their science. 

The giving of merely historical information is no part of the 
present plan : except in so far as chronology has a bearing upon 
the most fascinating of all histories, the history of the spirit of 
man. Many books upon mysticism have been based on the 
historical method : amongst them two such very different works 



PREFACE ix 

as Vaughan's supercilious and unworthy " Hours with the 
Mystics" and Dr. Inge's scholarly Bampton lectures. It is a 
method which seems to be open to some objection : since 
mysticism avowedly deals with the individual not as he stands 
in relation to the civilization of his time, but as he stands in 
relation to truths that are timeless. All mystics, said Saint- 
Martin, speak the same language and come from the same 
country. As against that fact, the place which they happen 
to occupy in the kingdom of this world matters little. 
Nevertheless, those who are unfamiliar with the history of 
mysticism properly so called, and to whom the names 
of the great contemplatives convey no accurate suggestion 
of period or nationality, may be glad to have a short state- 
ment of their order in time and distribution in space. Also, 
some knowledge of the genealogy of mysticism is desirable if 
we are to distinguish the original contributions of each indi- 
vidual from the mass of speculation and statement which he 
inherits from the past. Those entirely unacquainted with these 
matters may find it helpful to glance at the Appendix before 
proceeding to the body of the work ; since few things are more 
disagreeable than the constant encounter of persons to whom 
we have not been introduced. 

The second part of the book, for which the first seven 
chapters are intended to provide a preparation, is avowedly 
psychological. It is an attempt to set out and justify a definite 
theory of the nature of man's mystical consciousness : the 
necessary stages of organic growth through which the typical 
mystic passes, the state of equilibrium towards which he tends. 
Each of these stages — and also the characteristically mystical 
and still largely mysterious experiences of visions and voices, 
contemplation and ecstasy — though viewed from the standpoint 
of psychology, is illustrated from the lives of the mystics ; and 
where possible in their own words. In planning these chapters 
I have been considerably helped by M. Delacroix's brilliant 
" Etudes sur le Mysticisme," though unable to accept his con- 
clusions : and here gladly take the opportunity of acknowledg- 
ing my debt to him and also to Baron von Hiigel's classic 
" Mystical Element of Religion." This book, which only came 



x MYSTICISM 

into my hands when my own was planned and partly written, 
has since been a constant source of stimulus and encourage- 
ment. 

Finally, it is perhaps well to say something as to the exact 
sense in which the term " Mysticism " is here understood. One 
of the most abused words in the English language, it has been 
used in different and often mutually exclusive senses by 
religion, poetry, and philosophy : has been claimed as an excuse 
for every kind of occultism, for dilute transcendentalism, vapid 
symbolism, religious or aesthetic sentimentality, and bad meta- 
physics. On the other hand, it has been freely employed as a 
term of contempt by those who have criticized these things. It 
is much to be hoped that it may be restored sooner or later to 
its old meaning, as the science or art of the spiritual life. 

Meanwhile, those who use the term " Mysticism " are bound 
in self-defence to explain what they mean by it. Broadly 
speaking, I understand it to be the expression of the innate 
tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with 
the transcendental order ; whatever be the theological formula 
under which that order is understood. This tendency, in great 
mystics, gradually captures the whole field of consciousness ; it 
dominates their life and, in the experience called M mystic 
union," attains its end. Whether that end be called the God of 
Christianity, the World-soul of Pantheism, the Absolute of 
Philosophy, the desire to attain it and the movement towards it 
— so long as this is a genuine life process and not an intellectual 
speculation — is the proper subject of mysticism. I believe this 
movement to represent the true line of development of the 
highest form of human consciousness. 

It is a pleasant duty to offer my heartiest thanks to the 
many kind friends and fellow students, of all shades of opinion, 
who have given me their help and encouragement. Amongst 
those to whom my heaviest debt of gratitude is due are Mr. W. 
Scott Palmer, for much valuable, generous, and painstaking 
assistance, particularly in respect of the chapter upon Vitalism : 
and Miss Margaret Robinson, who in addition to many other 
kind offices, has made all the translations from Meister Eckhart 
and Mechthild of Magdeburg here given. 



PREFACE xi 

Sections of the MS. have been kindly read by the Rev. Dr. 
Inge, by Miss May Sinclair, and by Miss Eleanor Gregory ; 
from all of whom I have received much helpful and expert 
advice. To Mr. Arthur Symons my thanks and those of my 
readers are specially due ; since it is owing to his generous per- 
mission that I am able to make full use of his beautiful trans- 
lations of the poems of St. John of the Cross. Others who have 
given me much help in various directions, and to whom most 
grateful acknowledgments are here offered, are Miss Constance 
Jones, Miss Ethel Barker, Mr. J. A. Herbert of the British 
Museum — who first brought to my notice the newly discovered 
" Mirror of Simple Souls " — the Rev. Dr. Arbuthnot Nairn, 
Mr. A. E. Waite, and Mr. H. Stuart Moore, F.S.A. The sub- 
stance of two chapters — those upon " The Characteristics of 
Mysticism " and " Mysticism and Magic " — has already appeared 
in the pages of The Quest and The Fortnightly Review. 
These sections are here reprinted by kind permission of their 
respective editors. 

E. U. 
Feast of St. John of the Cross 
igio 



Note to the Third Edition. 

In revising this edition for the press I have availed myself ot 
suggestions made by several friendly critics : above all, by the 
Baron von Hiigel, to whom I here tender my most grateful 
thanks. 

November jgu E. U. 



CONTENTS 

PART I 
THE MYSTIC FACT 

PAGE 

PREFACE ......... vii 

CHAPTER I 
THE POINT OF DEPARTURE ...... 3 

CHAPTER II 
MYSTICISM AND VITALISM . . 30 

CHAPTER III 

MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY . . . . . $2 

CHAPTER IV 

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM . . . . .83 

CHAPTER V 

MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY . . . • • . II4 

CHAPTER VI 

MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM . . . . . .149 

xiii 



xiv MYSTICISM 

CHAPTER VII 

PAGE 

MYSTICISM AND MAGIC . . • . , . , 178 



PART II 
THE MYSTIC WAY 

CHAPTER I 

INTRODUCTORY ........ 203 

CHAPTER II 

THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF . . . . . . 213 

CHAPTER III 

THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF . . . . .239 

CHAPTER IV 

THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF ..... 279 

CHAPTER V 

VOICES AND VISIONS . . . . . . . 319 

CHAPTER VI 

INTROVERSION. PART I. RECOLLECTION AND QUIET . . 357 

CHAPTER VII 

INTROVERSION. PART II. CONTEMPLATION . • . -392 

CHAPTER VIII 
ECSTASY AND RAPTURE . . . . . . .427 

CHAPTER IX 

THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL . . . . • 453 



CONTENTS xv 

CHAPTER X 

PAGE 

THE UNITIVE LIFE . . 494 

CONCLUSION . . . . , , .531 

APPENDIX 

A HISTORICAL SKETCH OF EUROPEAN MYSTICISM FROM THE 
BEGINNING OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA TO THE DEATH OF 
BLAKE. . . . . . . . 541 

BIBLIOGRAPHY ....... 563 

INDEX . 587 



u. 



PART ONE 

THE MYSTIC FACT 



" What the world, which truly knows nothings calls ' mysticism ' 
is the science of ultimates, ... the science of self-evident Reality, 
which cannot be 'reasoned about,' because it is the object of pure 
reason or perception. The Babe sucking its mother's breast, and 
the Lover returning, after twenty years' separation, to his home and 
food in the same bosom, are the types and princes of Mystics." 

Coventry Patmore, 
"The Rod, the Root, and the Flower" 



AN INTRODUCTION TO 
MYSTICISM 

CHAPTER I 
THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 

The mystic type— its persistence—Man's quest of Truth— The Mystics claim to 
have attained it — The foundations of experience — The Self— its sensations — its con- 
cepts — The sense-world — its unreal character — Philosophy — its classic theories of 
Reality — Naturalism — its failures — Idealism — its limitations — Philosophic Scepticism 
— the logical end of Intellectualism — Failure of philosophy and science to discover 
Reality — Emotional and spiritual experience — its validity— Religion — Suffering — 
Beauty — Their mystical aspects — Mysticism as the science of the Real — Its state- 
ments — its practice — It claims direct communion with the Absolute 

THE most highly developed branches of the human 
family have in common one peculiar characteristic. 
They tend to produce — sporadically it is true, and 
usually in the teeth of adverse external circumstances — a curious 
and definite type of personality ; a type which refuses to be 
satisfied with that which other men call experience, and is 
inclined, in the words of its enemies, to " deny the world in 
order that it may find reality." We meet these persons in the 
east and the west ; in the ancient, mediaeval, and modern 
worlds. Their one passion appears to be the prosecution of a 
certain spiritual and intangible quest : the finding of a " way 
out " or a " way back " to some desirable state in which alone 
they can satisfy their craving for absolute truth. This quest, 
for them, has constituted the whole meaning of life : they have 
made for it without effort sacrifices which have appeared 
enormous to other men : and it is an indirect testimony to its 
objective actuality, that whatever the place or period in which 

3 



*& 



4 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

they have arisen, their aims, doctrines and methods have been 
substantially the same. Their experience, therefore, forms a 
body of evidence, curiously self-consistent and often mutually 
explanatory, which must be taken into account before we can 
add up the sum of the energies and potentialities of the human 
spirit, or reasonably speculate on its relations to the unknown 
world which lies outside the boundaries of sense. 

All men, at one time or another, have fallen in love with 
the veiled Isis whom they call Truth. With most, this has 
been but a passing passion : they have early seen its hopeless- 
ness and turned to more practical things. But there are others 
who remain all their lives the devout lovers of reality : though 
the manner of their love, the vision which they make unto 
themselves of the beloved object, varies enormously. Some see 
Truth as Dante saw Beatrice : a figure adorable yet intangible, 
found in this world yet revealing the next. To others she seems 
rather an evil yet an irresistible enchantress : enticing, demand- 
ing payment and betraying her lover at the last. Some have 
seen her in a test tube, and some in a poet's dream : some 
before the altar, others in the slime. The extreme pragmatists 
have even sought her in the kitchen ; declaring that she may 
best be recognized by her utility. Last stage of all, the philo- 
sophic sceptic has comforted an unsuccessful courtship by 
assuring himself that his mistress is not really there. 

Under whatsoever symbols they may have objectified their 
quest, none of these seekers Have ever been able to assure the 
world that they have found, seen face to face, the Reality 
behind the veil. But if we may trust the reports of the mystics 
— and they are reports given with a strange accent of certainty 
and good faith — they have succeeded where all these others 
have failed, in establishing immediate communication between 
the spirit of man, entangled as they declare amongst material 
things, and that " only Reality," that immaterial and final Being, 
which some philosophers call the Absolute, and most theo- 
logians call God. This, they say — and here many who are 
not mystics agree with them — is the hidden Truth which is the 
object of man's craving ; the only satisfying goal of his quest. 
Hence, they should claim from us the same attention that we 
give to other explorers of countries in which we are not com- 
petent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 5 

of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to 
their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the 
courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explora- 
tions for themselves. 

It is the object of this book to attempt a description, and 
also — though this is needless for those who read that description 
in good faith — a justification of these experiences and the 
conclusions which have been drawn from them. So remote, 
however, are these matters from our ordinary habits of thought, 
that their investigation entails, in all those who would attempt 
• to understand them, a certain definite preparation : a purging of 
the intellect. As with those who came of old to the Mysteries, 
purification is here the gate of knowledge. We must come to 
this encounter with minds cleared of prejudice and convention, 
must deliberately break with our inveterate habit of taking the 
" visible world " for granted ; our lazy assumption that somehow 
science is " real " and metaphysics is not. We must pull down 
our own card houses — descend, as the mystics say, " into our 
nothingness" — and examine for ourselves the foundations of all 
possible human experience, before we are in a position to 
criticize the buildings of the visionaries, the poets, and the saints. 
We must not begin to talk of the unreal world of these dreamers 
until we have discovered — if we can — a real world with which it 
may be compared. 

Such a criticism of reality is of course the business of 
philosophy. I need hardly say that this book is not written by 
a philosopher, nor is it addressed to students of that imperial 
science. Nevertheless, amateurs though we be, we cannot reach 
our proper starting-point without trespassing to some extent on 
philosophic ground. That ground covers the whole area of first 
principles : and it is to first principles that we must go, if we 
would understand the true significance of the mystic type. 

Let us then begin at the beginning : and remind ourselves 
of a few of the trite and primary facts which all practical persons 
agree to ignore. That beginning, for human thought, is of 
course the I, the Ego, the self-conscious subject which is writing 
this book, or the other self-conscious subject which is reading 
it ; and which declares, in the teeth of all arguments, I AM. 1 

1 Even this I AM, which has seemed safe ground to most metaphysicians, is of 
course combated by certain schools of philosophy. " The word Sum," said Eckhart 



AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Here is a point as to which we all feel quite sure. No meta- 
physician has yet shaken the ordinary individual's belief in his 
own existence. The uncertainties only begin for most of us 
when we ask what else is. 

To this I, this conscious self " imprisoned in the body like 
an oyster in his shell," x come, as we know, a constant stream of 
messages and experiences. Chief amongst these are the 
stimulation of the tactile nerves whose result we call touch, the 
vibrations taken up by the optic nerve which we call light, and 
those taken up by the ear and perceived as sound. 

What do these experiences mean ? The first answer of the 
unsophisticated Self of course is, that they indicate the nature 
of the external world : it is to the " evidence of her senses " that 
she turns, when she is asked what that world is like. From the 
messages received through those senses, which pour in on her 
whether she will or no, batter upon her gateways at every 
instant and from every side, she constructs that " sense-world ' 
which is the " real and solid world " of normal men. As the 
impressions come in — or rather those interpretations of the 
original impressions which her nervous system supplies — she 
pounces on them, much as players in the spelling-game pounce 
on the separate letters dealt out to them. She sorts, accepts, 
rejects, combines : and then triumphantly produces from them 
a "concept" which is, she says, the external world. With an 
enviable and amazing simplicity she attributes her own sensa- 
tions to the unknown universe. The stars, she says, are 
bright; the grass is green. For her, as for the philosopher 
Hume, "reality consists in impressions and ideas." 

It is immediately apparent, however, that this sense-world, 
this seemingly real external universe — though it may be useful 
and valid in other respects — cannot be the external world, but 
only the Self's projected picture of it. 2 It is a work of art, not 

long ago, " can be spoken by no creature but by God only : for it becomes the 
creature to testify of itself Non Sum." In a less mystical strain Lotze, and after 
him Bradley and other modern writers, have devoted much destructive criticism to the 
concept of the Ego as the starting-point of philosophy : looking upon it as a large, 
and logically unwarrantable, assumption. 

1 Plato, Phaedrus, § 250. 

9 Thus Eckhart, "Every time that the powers of the soul come into contact with 
created things, they receive and create images and likenesses from the created thing 
and absorb them. In this way arises the soul's knowledge of created things. 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 7 

a scientific fact ; and, whilst it may well possess the profound 
significance proper to great works of art, is dangerous if treated 
as a subject of analysis. Very slight investigation will be 
enough to suggest that it is a picture whose relation to reality 
is at best symbolic and approximate, and which would have no 
meaning for s^es whose senses, or channels of communication, 
happened to be arranged upon a different plan. The evidence 
of the senses, then, cannot safely be accepted as evidence of the 
nature of ultimate reality : useful servants, they are dangerous 
guides. Nor can their testimony disconcert those seekers 
whose reports they appear to contradict. 

The conscious self sits, so to speak, at the receiving end 
of a telegraph wire. On any other theory than that of 
mysticism, it is her one channel of communication with the 
hypothetical " external world." The receiving instrument 
registers certain messages. She does not know, and — so long 
as she remains dependent on that instrument — never can 
know, the object, the reality at the other end of the wire, 
by which those messages are sent ; neither can the messages 
truly disclose the nature of that object. But she is justified 
on the whole in accepting them as evidence that something 
exists beyond herself and her receiving instrument. It is 
obvious that the structural peculiarities of the telegraphic 
instrument will have exerted a modifying effect upon the 
message. That which is conveyed as dash and dot, colour 
and shape, may have been received in a very different form. 
Therefore this message, though it may in a partial sense be 
relevant to the supposed reality at the other end, can never 
be adequate to it. There will be fine vibrations which it 
fails to take up, others which it confuses together. Hence a 
portion of the message is always lost ; or, in other language, 
there are aspects of the world which we can never know. 

The sphere of our possible intellectual knowledge is thus 
strictly conditioned by the limits of our own personality. On 

Created things cannot come nearer to the soul than this, and the soul can only 
approach created things by the voluntary reception of images. And it is through the 
presence of the image that the soul approaches the created world : for the image is a 
Thing, which the soul creates with her own powers. Does the soul want to know the 
nature of a stone — a horse — a man? She forms an image." — Meister Eckhart, 
Pred. i. (" Mystische Schriften," p. 15). 



8 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

this basis, not the ends of the earth, but the external termini 
of our own sensory nerves, are the termini of our explora- 
tions : and to " know oneself" is really to know one's 
universe. We are locked up with our receiving instruments : 
we cannot get up and walk away in the hope of seeing 
whither the lines lead. Eckhart's words are still final for 
us : " the soul can only approach created things by the 
voluntary reception of images." Did some mischievous 
Demiurge choose to tickle our sensory apparatus in a new 
way, we should receive by this act a new universe. 

The late Professor James once suggested as a useful 
exercise for young idealists a consideration of the changes 
which would be worked in our ordinary world if the various 
branches of our receiving instruments happened to exchange 
duties ; if, for instance, we heard all colours and saw all 
sounds. Such a remark as this throws a sudden light on 
the strange and apparently insane statement of the visionary 
Saint-Martin, " I heard flowers that sounded, and saw notes 
that shone " ; and on the reports of certain other mystics 
concerning a rare moment of consciousness in which the 
senses are fused into a single and ineffable act of percep- 
tion ; and colour and sound are known as aspects of the 
same thing. 1 

Since music is but an interpretation of certain vibrations 
undertaken by the ear, and colour an interpretation of other 
vibrations performed by the eye, all this is less mad than 
it sounds. Were such an alteration of our senses to take 
place the world would still be sending us the same messages 
— that strange unknown world from which, on this hypothesis, 
we are hermetically sealed — but we should have interpreted 
them differently. Beauty would still be ours, though speaking 
another tongue. The bird's song would then strike our retina 
as a pageant of colour : we should see all the magical tones 
of the wind, hear as a great fugue the repeated and harmonized 
greens of the forest, the cadences of stormy skies. Did we 
realize how slight an adjustment of our own organs is needed 
to initiate us into such a world, we should perhaps be less 

1 Thus Edward Carpenter says of his own experience of the onset of mystical 
consciousness, " The perception seems to be one in which all the senses unite into 
one sense " (quoted in Bucke's " Cosmic Consciousness," p. 198). 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 9 

contemptuous of those mystics who tell us that they appre- 
hended the Absolute as " heavenly music " or " Uncreated 
Light * : less fanatical in our determination to make the 
"real and solid world of common sense" the only standard 
of reality. This " world of common sense " is a conceptual 
wqrld. It may represent an external universe : it certainly 
does represent the activity of the human mind. Within 
that mind it is built up : and there most of us are content 
"at ease for aye to dwell," like the soul in the Palace of Art. 

A direct encounter with absolute truth, then, appears to 
be impossible for normal non-mystical consciousness. We 
cannot know the reality, or even prove the existence, of the 
simplest object : though this is a limitation which few people 
realize acutely and most would strenuously deny. But there 
persists in the race a type of personality which does realize 
this limitation : and cannot be content with the sham realities 
that furnish the universe of normal men. It is necessary, as 
it seems, to the comfort of persons of this type to form 
for themselves some image of the Something or Nothing 
which is at the end of their telegraph lines : some " conception 
of being," some "theory of knowledge." They are tormented 
by the Unknowable, ache for first principles, demand some 
background to the shadow show of things. In so far as man 
possesses this temperament, he hungers for reality, and must 
satisfy that hunger as best he can : staving off starvation, 
though he may not be filled. 

Now it is doubtful whether any two selves have offered 
themselves exactly the same image of the truth outside their 
gates : for a living metaphysic, like a living religion, is at 
bottom a strictly personal affair — a matter, as Professor James 
reminded us, of vision rather than of argument. 1 Nevertheless 
such a living metaphysic may — and if sound generally does — 
escape the stigma of subjectivism by outwardly attaching itself 
to a traditional School ; as personal religion may and should 
outwardly attach itself to a traditional church. Let us then 
consider shortly the results arrived at by these traditional 
schools — the great classic theories concerning the nature of 
reality. In them we see crystallized the best that the human 
intellect, left to itself, has been able to achieve. 

1 "A Pluralistic Universe," p. 10. 



10 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

i. The most obvious and most generally accepted ex- 
planation of the world is of course that of Naturalism or 
Realism : the point of view at once of the plain man and 
of physical science. Naturalism states simply that we see 
the real world, though we may not see it very well. What 
seems to normal healthy people to be there, is approximately 
there. It congratulates itself on resting in the concrete ; it 
accepts material things as real. In other words, our corrected 
and correlated sense impressions, raised to their highest point 
of efficiency, form for it the only valid material of knowledge : 
knowledge itself being the classified results of exact observation. 

Now such an attitude as this may be a counsel of 
prudence, in view of our ignorance of all that lies beyond : 
but it can never satisfy our hunger for reality. It says in 
effect, " The room in which we find ourselves is fairly com- 
fortable. Draw the curtains, for the night is dark : and let 
us devote ourselves to describing the furniture." Unfor- 
tunately, however, even the furniture refuses to accommo- 
date itself to the naturalistic view of things. Once we 
begin to examine it attentively, we find that it abounds 
in hints of wonder and mystery : declares aloud that even 
chairs and tables are not what they seem. 

We have seen that the most elementary criticism, applied to 
any ordinary object of perception, tends to invalidate the simple 
and comfortable creed of " common sense " ; that not merely 
faith, but gross credulity, is needed by the mind which would 
accept the apparent as the real. I say, for instance, that I 
" see " a house. I can only mean by this that the part of 
my receiving instrument which undertakes the duty called 
vision is affected in a certain way, and arouses in my mind 
the idea " house." The idea " house " is now treated by me as 
a real house, and my further observations will be an unfolding 
enriching, and defining of this image. But what the external 
reality is which evoked the image that 1 call " house," I do 
not know and never can know. It is as mysterious, as far 
beyond my apprehension, as the constitution of the angelic 
choirs. Consciousness shrinks in terror from contact with the 
mighty verb "to be." I may of course call in one sense to 
" corroborate," as we trustfully say, the evidence of the other ; 
may approach the house, and touch it. Then the nerves of 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 11 

my hand will be affected by a sensation which I translate 
as hardness and solidity ; the eye by a peculiar and wholly 
incomprehensible sensation called redness ; and from these 
purely personal changes my mind constructs and externalizes 
an idea which it calls red bricks. Science herself, however, 
if she be asked to verify the reality of these perceptions, 
at once declares that though the material world be real, 
the ideas of solidity and colour are but hallucination. They 
belong to the human animal, not to the physical universe : 
pertain to accident not substance, as scholastic philosophy 
would say. 

"The red brick," says Science, "is a mere convention. In 
reality that bit, like all other bits of the universe, consists, so far 
as I know at present, of innumerable atoms whirling and dancing 
one about the other. It is no more solid than a snowstorm. 
Were you to eat of Alice-in-Wonderland's mushroom and 
shrink to the dimensions of the infra-world, each atom might 
seem to you a planet and the red brick itself a universe. More- 
over, these atoms themselves elude me as I try to grasp them. 
They are only manifestations of something else. Could I track 
matter to its lair, I might conceivably discover that it has no 
extension, and become an idealist in spite of myself. As for 
redness, as you call it, that is a question of the relation between 
your optic nerve and the light waves which it is unable to 
absorb. This evening, when the sun slopes, your brick will 
probably be purple ; a very little deviation from normal vision 
on your part would make it green. Even the sense that the 
object of perception is outside yourself may be fancy ; since 
you as easily attribute this external quality to images seen in 
dreams, and to waking hallucinations, as you do to those objects 
which, as you absurdly say, are " really there!' 

Further, there is no trustworthy standard by which we can 
separate the " real " from the " unreal " aspects of phenomena. 
Such standards as exist are conventional : and correspond to con- 
venience, not to truth. It is no argument to say that most men 
see the world in much the same way, and that this " way " is the 
true standard of reality : though for practical purposes we have 
agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our 
neighbours. Those who are honest with themselves know that 
this " sharing " is at best incomplete. By the voluntary adop- 



12 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

tion of a new conception of the universe, the fitting of a new 
alphabet to the old Morse code — a proceeding which we call the 
acquirement of knowledge — we can and do change to a marked 
extent our way of seeing things : building up new worlds from 
old sense impressions, and transmuting objects more easily and 
thoroughly than any magician. " Eyes and ears," said Hera- 
cleitus, " are bad witnesses to those who have barbarian souls " : 
and even those whose souls are civilized tend to see and hear all 
things through a temperament. In one and the same sky the 
poet may discover the veritable habitation of angels, whilst the 
sailor sees only a promise of dirty weather ahead. Hence, 
artist and surgeon, Christian and rationalist, pessimist and 
optimist, do actually and truly live in different and mutually 
exclusive worlds, not only of thought but also of perception. 
Each, in Professor James's phrase, literally " dichotomizes the 
Kosmos in a different place." Only the happy circumstance 
that our ordinary speech is conventional, not realistic, permits 
us to conceal from one another the unique and lonely world in 
which each lives. Now and then an artist is born, terribly 
articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on "Speaking as he 
saw." Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial 
universe, agree that he is mad : or, at the very best, an ".extra- 
ordinarily imaginative fellow." 

Moreover, even this unique world of the individual is not 
permanent. Each of us, as we grow and change, works inces- 
santly and involuntarily at the re-making of our sensual 
universe. We behold at any specific moment not " that which 
is," but " that which we are " ; and personality undergoes many 
readjustments in the course of its passage from birth through 
maturity to death. The mind which seeks the Real, then, in 
this shifting and subjective " natural " world is of necessity 
thrown back on itself: on images and concepts which owe more 
to the " seer " than to the " seen." But Reality must be real for 
all, once they have found it : must exist " in itself" upon a plane 
of being unconditioned by the perceiving mind. Only thus can 
it satisfy that mind's most vital instinct, most sacred passion — 
its " instinct for the Absolute," its passion for truth. 

You are not asked, as a result of these antique and elemen- 
tary propositions, to wipe clean the slate of normal human 
experience, and cast in your lot with intellectual nihilism. You 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 13 

are only asked to acknowledge that it is but a slate, and that 
the white scratches upon it which the drdinary man calls facts, 
and the Scientific Realist calls knowledge, are at best relative 
and conventionalized symbols of that aspect of the unknowable 
reality at which they hint. This being so, whilst we must all 
draw a picture of some kind on our slate and act in relation 
therewith, we cannot deny the validity — though we may deny 
the usefulness — of the pictures which others produce, however 
abnormal and impossible they may seem ; since these are 
sketching an aspect of reality which has not come within our 
sensual field, and so does not and cannot form part of our world. 
Yet, as the theologian claims that the doctrine of the Trinity 
veils and reveals not Three but One, so the varied aspects under 
which the universe appears to the perceiving consciousness hint 
at a final reality, or in Kantian language a Transcendental 
Object, which shall be, not any one, yet all of its manifestations ; 
transcending yet including the innumerable fragmentary worlds 
of individual conception. We begin, then, to ask what can be 
the nature of this One ; and whence comes the persistent instinct 
which — receiving no encouragement from sense experience — 
apprehends and desires this unknown unity, this all-inclusive 
Absolute, as the only possible satisfaction of its thirst for truth. 
2. The second great conception of Being — Idealism — has 
arrived by a process of elimination at a tentative answer to this 
question. It whisks us far from the material universe, with its 
interesting array of " things," its machinery, its law, into the 
pure, if thin, air of a metaphysical world. Whilst the naturalist's 
world is constructed from an observation of the evidence offered 
by the senses, the Idealist's world is constructed from an 
observation of the processes of thought. There are but two 
things, he says in effect, about which we are sure : the 
existence of a thinking subject, a conscious Self, and of an 
object, an Idea, with which that subject deals. We know, that 
is to say, both Mind and Thought. What we call the universe 
is really a collection of such thoughts; and these, we agree, have 
been more or less distorted by the subject, the individual 
thinker, in the process of assimilation. Obviously, we do not 
think all that there is to be thought, conceive all that there is to 
be conceived : neither do we necessarily combine in right order 
and proportion those ideas which we are capable of grasping. 



14 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Reality, says Objective Idealism, is the complete, undistorted 
Object, the big thought, of which we pick up these fragmentary 
hints : the world of phenomena which we treat as real being 
merely its shadow show or " manifestation in space and time." 

According to the form of Objective Idealism here chosen 
from amongst many as typical — for almost every Idealist has 
his own scheme of metaphysical salvation 1 — we live in a 
universe which is, in popular language, the Idea, or Dream of its 
Creator. We, as Tweedledum explained to Alice in the most 
philosophic of all fairy tales, are "just part of the dream." All 
life, all phenomena, are the endless modifications and expres- 
sions of the one transcendent Object, the mighty and dynamic 
Thought of one Absolute Thinker in which we are bathed. 
This Object, or certain aspects of it — and the place of each 
individual consciousness within the Cosmic Thought, or, as we 
say, our position in life, must largely determine which these 
aspects shall be — is interpreted by the senses and conceived by 
the mind, under limitations which we are accustomed to call 
matter, space, and time. But we have no reason to suppose 
that matter, space, and time are necessarily parts of reality ; of 
the ultimate Idea. Probability points rather to their being the 
pencil and paper with which we sketch it. As our vision, our 
idea of things, tends to approximate more and more to that of 
the Eternal Idea, so we get nearer and nearer to reality : for the 
idealist's reality is simply the Idea, or Thought of God. This, 
he says, is the supreme unity at which all the illusory appear- 
ances that make up the widely differing worlds of " common 
sense," of science, of metaphysics, and of art dimly hint. This is 
the sense in which it can truly be said that only the supernatural 
possesses reality ; for that world of appearance which we call 
natural is certainly largely made up of preconception and 
illusion, of the hints offered by the eternal real world of 
Idea outside our gates, and the quaint concepts which we at our 
receiving instruments manufacture from them. 

There is this to be said for the argument of Idealism : that 
in the last resort, the destinies of mankind are invariably guided, 
not by the concrete " facts " of the sense world, but by concepts 

1 There are four main groups ol such schemes : (i) Subjective; (2) Objective ; 
(3) Transcendental (Kantian) ; (4) Absolute (Hegelian). To these must perhaps be 
added the Immanental Idealism of Professor Eucken. 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 15 

which are acknowledged by every one to exist only on the 
mental plane. In the great moments of existence, when he 
rises to spiritual freedom, these are the things which every man 
feels to be real. It is by these and for these that he is found 
willing to live, work, suffer, and die. Love, empire, religion, 
altruism, fame, all belong to the transcendental world. Hence, 
they partake more of the nature of reality than any " fact " 
could do ; and man, dimly recognizing this, has ever bowed to 
them as to immortal centres of energy. Religions as a rule are 
steeped in idealism : Christianity in particular is a trumpet call 
to an idealistic conception of life, Buddhism is little less. Over 
and over again, their Scriptures tell us that only materialists 
will be damned. 

In Idealism we have perhaps the most sublime theory of 
Being which has ever been constructed by the human intellect : 
a theory so sublime, in fact, that it can hardly have been pro- 
duced by the exercise of " pure reason " alone, but must be 
looked upon as a manifestation of that natural mysticism, that 
instinct for the Absolute, which is latent in man. But, when we 
ask the idealist how we are to attain communion with the reality 
which he describes to us as " certainly there," his system sud- 
denly breaks down ; and discloses itself as a diagram of the 
heavens, not a ladder to the stars. This failure of Idealism to 
find in practice the reality of which it thinks so much is due, 
in the opinion of the mystics, to a cause which finds epigram- 
matic expression in the celebrated phrase by which St. Jerome 
marked the distinction between religion and philosophy. " Plato 
located the soul of man in the head ; Christ located it in the 
heart." That is to say, Idealism, though just in its premises, 
and often daring and honest in their application, is stultified by 
the exclusive intellectualism of its own methods : by its fatal 
trust in the squirrel-work of the industrious brain instead of the 
piercing vision of the desirous heart. It interests man, but does 
not involve him in its processes : does not catch him up to the 
new and more real life which it describes. Hence the thing 
that mattered, the living thing, has somehow escaped it ; and 
its observations bear the same relation to reality as the art of 
the anatomist does to the mystery of birth. 

3. But there is yet another Theory of Being to be con- 
sidered : that which may be loosely defined as Philosophic 



16 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Scepticism. This is the attitude of those selves who refuse 
to accept either the realistic or the idealistic answer to the 
eternal question : and, confronted in their turn with the riddle 
of reality, reply that there is no riddle to solve. We of course 
assume for the ordinary purposes of life that for every sequence 
a : b : present in our consciousness there exists a mental or 
material A : B : in the external universe ; and that the first 
is a strictly relevant, though probably wholly inadequate, ex- 
pression of the second. The bundle of visual and auditory 
sensations, for instance, whose sum total I am accustomed to 
call Mrs. Smith, corresponds with something that exists in the 
actual as well as in my phenomenal world. Behind my Mrs. 
Smith, behind the very different Mrs. Smith which the X-rays 
would exhibit, there is, contends the Objective Idealist, a trans- 
cendental, or in the Platonic sense an ideal Mrs. Smith, at 
whose qualities I cannot even guess ; but whose existence 
is quite independent of my apprehension of it. But though 
we do and must act on this hypothesis, it remains only a 
hypothesis ; and it is one which philosophic scepticism will 
not let pass. 

The external world, say the sceptical schools, is — so far as 
I know it — a concept present in my mind. If my mind ceased 
to exist, so far as I know the concept which I call the world 
would cease to exist too. The one thing which for me in- 
dubitably is, is the self's experience, its whole consciousness. 
Outside this circle of consciousness I have no authority to 
indulge in guesses as to what may or may not Be. Hence, for 
me, the Absolute is a meaningless diagram, a superfluous com- 
plication of thought : since the mind, wholly cut off from 
contact with external reality, has no reason to suppose that 
such a reality exists except in its own ideas. Every effort 
made by philosophy to go forth in search of it is merely the 
metaphysical squirrel running round the conceptual cage. In 
the completion and perfect unfolding of the set of ideas with 
which our consciousness is furnished, lies the only reality which 
we can ever hope to know. Far better to stay here and make 
ourselves at home : only this, for us, truly is. 

This purely subjective conception of Being has found repre- 
sentatives in every school of thought : even including, by a 
curious paradox, that of mystical philosophy, its one effective 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 17 

antagonist. Thus Delacroix, after an exhaustive and even 
sympathetic analysis of St. Teresa's progress towards union 
with the Absolute, ends upon the assumption that the God 
with whom she was united was the content of her own sub- 
conscious mind. 1 Such a mysticism is that of a kitten running 
after its own tail : a different path indeed from that which the 
great seekers for reality have pursued. The reductio ad absurdum 
of this doctrine is found in the so-called " philosophy " of New 
Thought, which begs its disciples to "try quietly to realize that 
the Infinite is really You." 2 By its utter denial not merely of 
a knowable, but of a logically conceivable Transcendent, it 
drives us in the end to the conclusion of extreme pragmatism ; 
that Truth, for us, is not an immutable reality, but merely 
that idea which happens to work out as true and useful in any 
given experience. There is no reality behind appearance, no 
Isis behind the veil ; therefore all faiths, all figments with which 
we people that nothingness are equally true, provided they be 
comfortable and good to live by. 

Logically carried out, this conception of Being would permit 
each man to regard other men as non-existent except within 
his own consciousness : the only place where a strict scepticism 
will allow that anything exists. Even the mind which con- 
ceives consciousness exists for us only in our own conception 
of it ; we no more know what we are than we know what we 
shall be. Man is left a conscious Something in the midst, so 
far as he knows, of Nothing: with no resources save the exploring 
of his own consciousness. 

Philosophic scepticism is particularly interesting to us in 
our present inquiry, because it shows us the position in which 
" pure reason," if left to itself, is bound to end. It is utterly 
logical ; and though we may feel it to be absurd, we can never 
prove it to be so. Those persons who are temperamentally 
inclined to credulity may become naturalists, and persuade 
themselves to believe in the reality of the sense world. Those 
with a certain instinct for the Absolute may adopt the more 
reasonable faith of idealism. But the true intellectualist, who 
concedes nothing to instinct or emotion, is obliged in the end 
to adopt some form of sceptical philosophy. The horrors of 

1 Delacroix, " Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 62. 

8 E. Towne, " Just how to Wake the Solar Plexus," p. 25. 



18 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

nihilism, in fact, can only be escaped by the exercise of faith : 
by a trust in man's innate but strictly irrational instinct for that 
Real "above all reason, beyond all, 'thought " towards which at 
its best moments his spirit tends, /if the metaphysician be true 
to his own postulates, he is compelled at last to acknowledge 
that we are forced, every one of us, to live, to think, and at last 
to die, in an unknown and unknowable world : fed arbitrarily 
and diligently, yet how we know not, by ideas and suggestions 
whose truth we cannot test but whose pressure we cannot resist. 
It is not by sight but by faith — faith in a supposed external 
order which we can never prove to exist, and in the approxi- 
mate truthfulness and constancy of the vague messages which 
we receive from it — that ordinary men must live and move. 
We must put our trust in " laws of nature " which have been 
devised by the human mind as a convenient epitome of its own 
observations of phenomena, must, for the purposes of daily life, 
accept these phenomena at their face value : an act of faith 
beside which the grossest superstitions of the Neapolitan 
peasant are hardly noticeable. , 

The intellectual quest oO&eality, then, leads us down one 
of three blind alleys : (i) To an acceptance of the symbolic 
world of appearance as the real ; (2) to the elaboration of a 
theory — also of necessity symbolic — which, beautiful in itself 
cannot help us to attain the Absolute which it describes ; (3) to 
a hopeless but strictly logical scepticism. 

In answer to the " Why ? Why ? " of the bewildered and 
eternal child in us, philosophy, though always ready to postulate 
the unknown if she can, is bound to reply only, " Nescio ! 
Nescio /" In spite of all her busy map-making, she cannot 
reach the goal which she points out to us : cannot explain the 
curious conditions under which we imagine that we know ; 
cannot even divide with a sure hand the subject and object of 
thought. Science, whose business is with phenomena and our 
knowledge of them, though she too is an idealist at heart, has 
been accustomed to explain that all our ideas and instincts, 
the pictured world that we take so seriously, the oddly limited 
and illusory nature of our experience, appear to minister to one 
great end : the preservation of life, and consequent fulfilment of 
that highly mystical hypothesis, the Cosmic Idea. Each per- 
ception, she assures us, serves a useful purpose in this evolu- 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 19 

tionary scheme : a scheme, by the way, which has been invented 
— we know not why — by the human mind, and imposed upon 
an obedient universe. 

By vision, hearing, smell, and touch, says Science, we find 
our way about, are warned of danger, obtain our food. The 
male perceives beauty in the female in order that the 
species may be propagated. It is true that this primitive 
instinct has given birth to higher and purer emotions ; but 
these too fulfil a social purpose and are not so useless as they 
seem. Man must eat to live, therefore many foods give us 
agreeable sensations. If he over eats, he dies ; therefore indi- 
gestion is an unpleasant pain. Certain facts of which too keen 
a perception would act detrimentally to the life-force are, for 
most men, impossible of realization : £*., the uncertainty of life, 
the decay of the body, the vanity of all things under the sun. 
When we are in good health, we all feel very real, solid, and 
permanent ; and this is of all our illusions the most ridiculous, 
and also the most obviously useful from the point of view of the 
efficiency and preservation of the race. 

But when we look a little closer, we see that this brisk 
generalization does not cover all the ground — not even that 
little tract of ground of which our senses make us free ; 
indeed, that it is more remarkable for its omissions than for 
its inclusions. Recejac has well said that " from the moment 
in which man is no longer content to devise things useful for 
his existence under the exclusive action of the will-to-live, the 
principle of (physical) evolution has been violated." x Nothing 
can be more certain than that man is not so content. He has 
been called by utilitarian philosophers a tool-making animal — 
the highest praise they knew how to bestow. More surely he is 
a vision-making animal ; 2 a creature of perverse and unpractical 
ideals, dominated by dreams no less than by appetites — dreams 
which can only be justified upon the theory that he moves 
towards some other goal than that of physical perfection or 
intellectual supremacy, is controlled by some higher and more 
vital reality than that of the determinists. One is driven to 

1 "Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 15. 

2 Or, as St. Thomas Aquinas suggests, a contemplative animal, since "this act 
alone in man is proper to him, and is in no way shared by any other being in this 
world" ( M Sumnaa Contra Gentiles," 1. iii. cap. xxxvii., Rickaby's translation). 



20 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

the conclusion that if the theory of evolution is to include 
or explain the facts of artistic and spiritual experience — and 
it cannot be accepted by any serious thinker if these great 
tracts of consciousness remain outside its range — it must be 
rebuilt on a mental rather than a physical basis. 

Even the most normal, most ordinary human life includes 
in its range fundamental experiences — violent and unforgettable 
sensations — forced on us as it were against our will, for which 
science finds it hard to account. These experiences and sensa- 
tions, and the hours of exalted emotion which they bring with 
them — often recognized by us as the greatest, most significant 
hours of our lives — fulfil no office in relation to her pet u func- 
tions of nutrition and reproduction." It is true that they are 
far-reaching in their effects on character ; but they do little or 
nothing to assist that character in its struggle for physical life. 
To the unprejudiced eye many of them seem hopelessly out 
of place in a universe constructed on strictly physico-chemical 
lines — look almost as though nature, left to herself, tended to 
contradict her own beautifully logical laws. Their presence, 
more, the large place which they fill in the human world of 
appearance, is a puzzling circumstance for deterministic philo- 
sophers ; who can only escape from the dilemma here presented 
to them by calling these things illusions, and dignifying their 
own more manageable illusions with the title of facts. 

Amongst the more intractable of these groups of perceptions 
and experiences are those which we connect with religion, with 
pain, and with beauty. All three, for those selves which are 
capable of receiving their messages, possess a mysterious 
authority far in excess of those feelings, arguments, or 
appearances which they may happen to contradict. All 
three, were the universe of the naturalists true, would be 
absurd; all three have ever been treated with the reverence 
due to vital matters by the best minds of the race. 

A. I need not point out the hopelessly irrational character of 
all great religions, which rest, one and all, on a primary assump- 
tion that can never be intellectually demonstrated, much less 
proved ; the assumption that the supra-sensible is somehow 
important and real, and can be influenced by the activities 
of man. This fact has been incessantly dwelt upon by their 
critics, and has provoked many a misplaced exercise of 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 21 

ingenuity on the part of their intelligent friends. Yet religion 
— emphasizing and pushing to extremes that general depend- 
ence on faith which we saw to be an inevitable condition of our 
lives — is one of the most universal and ineradicable functions 
of man, and this although it constantly acts detrimentally to 
the interests of his merely physical existence, opposes "the 
exclusive action of the will-to-live," except in so far as that will 
aspires to eternal life. Strictly utilitarian, almost logical in the 
savage, religion becomes more and more transcendental with 
the upward progress of the race. It begins as black magic ; 
it ends as Pure Love. Why did the Cosmic Idea elaborate this 
religious instinct, if the construction put upon its intentions by 
the determinists be true? 

B. Consider again the whole group of phenomena which 
are known as " the problem of suffering " : the mental 
anguish and physical pain which appear to be the inevitable 
result of the steady operation of "natural law" and its 
voluntary assistants, the cruelty, greed, and injustice of man. 
Here, it is true, the naturalist seems at first sight to make a 
little more headway, and is able to point to some amongst the 
cruder forms of suffering which are clearly useful to the race : 
punishing us for past follies, spurring to new efforts, warning 
against future infringements of "law." But he forgets the 
many others which refuse to be resumed under this simple 
formula : forgets to explain how it is that the Cosmic Idea 
involves the long torments of the incurable, the tortures of 
the innocent, the deep anguish of the bereaved, the existence 
of so many gratuitously agonizing forms of death. He forgets, 
too, the strange fact that man's capacity for suffering tends to 
increase in depth and subtlety with the increase of culture and 
civilization ; ignores the still more mysterious, perhaps most 
significant circumstance that the highest types have accepted 
it eagerly and willingly, have found in Pain the grave but 
kindly teacher of immortal secrets, the conferrer of liberty 
even the initiator into amazing joys. 

Those who " explain " suffering as the result of nature's 
immense fecundity — a by-product of that overcrowding and 
stress through which the fittest tend to survive — forget that 
even were this demonstration valid and complete it would leave 
the real problem untouched. The question is not, whence come 



22 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

those conditions which provoke in the self the experiences 
called sorrow, anxiety, pain : but, why do these conditions hurt 
the self? The pain is mental ; a little chloroform, and though 
the conditions continue unabated the suffering is gone. Why 
does full consciousness always include the mysterious capacity 
for misery as well as for happiness — a capacity which seems 
at first sight to invalidate any conception of the Absolute as 
Beautiful and Good? Why does evolution, as we ascend the 
ladder of life, foster instead of diminishing the capacity for 
useless mental anguish, for long, dull torment, bitter grief? 
Why, when so much lies outside our limited powers of per- 
ception, when so many of our own most vital functions are 
unperceived by consciousness, does suffering of some sort form 
an integral part of the experience of man ? For utilitarian pur- 
poses acute discomfort would be quite enough ; the Cosmic 
Idea, as the determinists explain it, did not really need an 
apparatus which felt all the throes of cancer, the horrors of 
neurasthenia, the pangs of birth. Still less did it need the 
torments of impotent sympathy for other people's irremediable 
pain, the dreadful power of feeling the world's woe. We are 
hopelessly over-sensitized for the part science calls us to play. 
Pain, however we may look at it, indicates a profound dis- 
harmony between the sense-world and the human self. If it is 
to be vanquished, either the disharmony must be resolved by 
a deliberate and careful adjustment of the self to the world 
of sense, or, that self must turn from the sense-world to some 
other with which it is in tune. 1 Pessimist and optimist here 
join hands. But whilst the pessimist, resting in appearance, 
only sees "nature red in tooth and claw" offering him little 
hope of escape, the optimist thinks that pain and anguish — 
which may in their lower forms be life's harsh guides on the 
path of physical evolution — in their higher and apparently 
"useless" developments are her leaders and teachers in the 
upper school of Supra-sensible Reality. He believes that they 
press the self towards another world, still " natural " for him, 
though " super-natural " for his antagonist, in which it will be 
more at home. Watching life, he sees in Pain the complement 
of Love : and is inclined to call these the wings on which man's 

1 All the healing arts, from ^sculapius and Galen to Metchnikoff and Mrs. Eddy, 
have virtually accepted and worked upon these two principles. 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 23 

spirit can best take flight towards the Absolute. Hence he 
can say with A Kempis, " Gloriari in tribulatione non est grave 
amanti," 1 and needs not to speak of morbid folly when he sees 
the Christian saints run eagerly and merrily to the Cross. 2 

He calls suffering the "gymnastic of eternity," the "terrible 
initiative caress of God " ; recognizing in it a quality for which • 
the disagreeable rearrangement of nerve molecules cannot 
account. Sometimes, in the excess of his optimism, he puts 
to the test of practice this theory with all its implications. 
Refusing to be deluded by the pleasures of the sense world, 
he accepts instead of avoiding pain, and becomes an ascetic ; 
a puzzling type for the convinced naturalist, who, falling back 
upon contempt — that favourite resource of the frustrated reason 
— can only regard him as diseased. 

Pain, then, which plunges like a sword through creation, 
leaving on the one side cringing and degraded animals and 
on the other side heroes and saints, is one of those facts of 
universal experience which are peculiarly intractable from the 
point of view of a merely materialistic philosophy. 

C. From this same point of view the existence of music 
and poetry, the qualities of beauty and of rhythm, the evoked 
sensations of awe, reverence, and rapture, are almost as 
difficult to account for. The question why an apparent corru- 
gation of the Earth's surface, called for convenience' sake an 
Alp, coated with congealed water, and perceived by us as a 
snowy peak, should produce in certain natures acute sensations 
of ecstasy and adoration, why the skylark's song should catch 
us up to heaven, and wonder and mystery speak to us alike in 
" the little speedwell's darling blue " and in the cadence of the 
wind, is a problem that seems to be merely absurd, until it is 
seen to be insoluble. Here Madam How and Lady Why alike 
are silent. With all our busy seeking, we have not found the 
sorting house where loveliness is extracted from the flux of 
things.r We know not why " great " poetry should move us to 
unspeakable emotion, or a stream of notes, arranged in a 

1 " De Imitatione Christi," 1. ii. cap. vi. 

2 ' * Such as these, I say, as if enamoured of My honour and famished for the food 
of souls, run to the table of the Most holy Cross, willing to suffer pain. ... To these, 
My most dear sons, trouble is a pleasure, and pleasure and every consolation that the 
world would offer them are a toil ' ' (St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogo, cap. xxviii.) 
Here and throughout I have used Thorold's translation. 



24 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

peculiar sequence, catch us up to heightened levels of vitality : 
nor can we guess how a passionate admiration of that which we 
call "best" in art or letters can possibly contribute to the 
physical evolution of the race. In spite of many lengthy dis- 
quisitions on aesthetics, Beauty's secret is still her own. A 
shadowy companion, half seen, half guessed at, she keeps step 
with the upward march of life : and we receive her message 
and respond to it, not because we understand it but because 
we must. 

Here it is that we approach that attitude of the self, that 
point of view, which is loosely and generally called mystical. 
Here, instead of those broad blind alleys which philosophy 
showed us, a certain type of mind has always discerned three 
strait and narrow ways going out towards the Absolute. In 
religion, in pain, in beauty, and the ecstasy of artistic satisfac- 
tion — and not only in these, but in many other apparently 
useless peculiarities of the empirical world and of the perceiving 
consciousness — these persons insist that they recognize at any 
rate the fringe of the real. Down these three paths, as well as 
by many another secret way, they claim that news comes to the 
self concerning levels of reality which in their wholeness are 
inaccessible to the senses : worlds wondrous and immortal, 
whose existence is not conditioned by the " given " world which 
those senses report. " Beauty," said Hegel, who, though he was 
no mystic, had a touch of that mystical intuition which no 
philosopher can afford to be without, " is merely the Spiritual 
making itself known sensuously." * " In the good, the beautiful, 
the true," says Rudolph Eucken, " we see Reality revealing its 
personal character. They are parts of a coherent and sub- 
stantial spiritual world." 2 Here, some of the veils of that 
substantial world are stripped off : Reality peeps through, and 
is recognized dimly, or acutely, by the imprisoned self. 

R£cejac only develops this idea when he says,3 " If the mind 
penetrates deeply into the facts of aesthetics, it will find more 
and more, that these facts are based upon an ideal identity 
between the mind itself and things. At a certain point the 
harmony becomes so complete, and the finality so close that it 

1 "Philosophy of Religion," vol. ii. p. 8. 

2 M Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 148. 

3 "Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 74. 



THE POINT OP DEPARTURE 25 

gives us actual emotion. The Beautiful then becomes the 
sublime ; brief apparition, by which the soul is caught up into 
the true mystic state, and touches the Absolute. It is scarcely 
possible to persist in this aesthetic perception without feeling 
lifted up by it above things and above ourselves, in an ontological 
vision which closely resembles the Absolute of the Mystics." 

It was of this underlying reality — this truth of things — that 
St. Augustine cried in a moment of lucid vision, " Oh, Beauty so 
old and so new, too late have I loved thee ! " x It is in this 
sense also that " beauty is truth, truth beauty " : and as regards 
the knowledge of ultimate things which is possible to ordinary 
men, it may well be that 

" That is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." 

" Of Beauty," says Plato in an immortal passage, " I repeat 
again that we saw her there shining in company with the 
celestial forms ; and coming to earth we find her here too 
shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. 
For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses : though not 
by that is wisdom seen ; her loveliness would have been trans- 
porting if there had been a visible image of her, and the other 
ideas, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally lovely. 
But this is the privilege of Beauty, that being the loveliest she is 
also the most palpable to sight Now he who is not newly 
initiated, or who has been corrupted, does not easily rise out of 
this world to the sight of true beauty in the other. . . . But he 
whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of 
many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any- 
one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of 
Divine Beauty ; and at first a shudder runs through him, and 
again the old awe steals over him. . . ." 3 

1 Aug. Conf., bk. x. cap. xxvii. 

2 Phaedrus, § 250 (Jowett's translation). The reference in the phrase "he whose 
initiation Is fecent" is to the rite of admission into the Greek Mysteries. It is believed 
by some authorities that the neophyte was then cast into an hypnotic sleep by his 
"initiator," and whilst in this condition a vision of the ''glories of the other world " 
was suggested to him. The main phenomena of " conversion " were thus artificially 
produced : but the point of attack being the mind rather than the heart, the results, 
as would appear from the context, were usually transient. See for matter bearing on 
this point, Rudolf Steiner, " Das Christenthum als mystiche Thatsache." 



26 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Most men in the course of their lives have known such 
Platonic hours of initiation, when the sense of beauty has risen 
from a pleasant feeling to a passion, and an element of strange- 
ness and terror has been mingled with their joy. In those 
hours the world has seemed charged with a new vitality ; with 
a splendour which does not belong to it but is poured through 
it, as light through a coloured window, grace through a sacra- 
ment, from that Perfect Beauty which " shines in company with 
the celestial forms " beyond the pale of appearance. In such 
moods of heightened consciousness each blade of grass seems 
fierce with meaning, and becomes a well of wondrous light : 
a " little emerald set in the City of God." The seeing self is 
indeed an initiate thrust suddenly into the sanctuary of the 
mysteries : and feels the " old awe and amazement " with which 
man encounters the Real. In such experiences as these, a new 
factor of the eternal calculus appears to be thrust in on us, a 
factor which no honest seeker for truth can afford to neglect ; 
since, if it be dangerous to say that any two systems of know- 
ledge are mutually exclusive, it is still more dangerous to give 
uncritical priority to any one system. We are bound, then, to 
examine this path to reality as closely and seriously as we 
should investigate the most neatly finished safety-ladder of 
solid ash which offered a salita alle stelle. 

Why, after all, take as our standard a material world whose 
existence is affirmed by nothing more trustworthy than the 
sense-impressions of " normal men " ; those imperfect and 
easily cheated channels of communication ? The mystics, those 
adventurers of whom we spoke upon the first page of this 
book, have always declared, implicitly or explicitly, their 
distrust in these channels of communication. They have 
never for an instant been deceived by phenomena, nor by the 
careful logic of the industrious intellect. One after another, 
with extraordinary unanimity, they have rejected that appeal 
to the unreal world of appearance which is the standard of all 
sensible men : affirming that there is another way, another 
secret, by which the conscious self may reach the actuality 
which it seeks. More complete in their grasp of experience 
than the votaries of intellect or of sense, they accept as central 
for life those spiritual messages which are mediated to the self 
by religion, by beauty, and by pain. More reasonable than the 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 27 

rationalists, they find in that very hunger for reality which is 
the mother of all metaphysics, an implicit proof that such reality 
exists ; that there is something else, some final satisfaction, 
beyond the ceaseless stream of sensation which besieges con- 
sciousness. "In that thou hast sought me, thou hast already 
found me," says the voice of Absolute Truth in their ears. 
This is the first doctrine of mysticism. Its next is that only 
in so far as the self is real can it hope to know Reality : like 
to like : Cor ad cor loquitur. Upon the propositions implicit in 
these two laws the whole claim and practice of the mystic life 
depends. 

" Finite as we are," they say — and here they speak not 
for themselves, but for the race — u lost though we seem to be 
in the woods or in the wide air's wilderness, in this world of 
time and of chance, we have still, like the strayed animals or 
like the migrating birds, our homing instinct. . . . We seek. 
That is a fact. We seek a city still out of sight. In the con- 
trast with this goal, we live. But if this be so, then already we 
possess something of Being even in our finite seeking. For 
the readiness to seek is already something of an attainment, 
even if a poor one." x 

Further, in this our finite seeking we are not wholly de- 
pendent on that homing instinct. For some, who have climbed 
to the hill-tops, that city is not really out of sight The mystics 
see it clearly. They report to us concerning it. Science and 
metaphysics may do their best and their worst : but these path- 
finders of the spirit never falter in their statements concerning 
that independent spiritual world which is the only goal of 
" pilgrim man." They say that messages come to him from 
that spiritual world, that complete reality which we call 
Absolute : that we are not, after all, hermetically sealed from 
it. To all selves who will receive it, news comes every hour 
of the day of a world of Absolute Life, Absolute Beauty, 
Absolute Truth, beyond the bourne of time and place : news 
that most of us translate — and inevitably distort in the process 
— into the language of religion, of beauty, of love, or of pain. 

Of all those forms of life and thought with which humanity 
has fed its craving for truth, mysticism alone postulates, and in 
the persons of its great initiates proves, not only the existence 

1 Royce, "The World and the Individual," vol. i. p. 181. 



28 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of the Absolute, but also this link : this possibility first of 
knowing, finally of attaining it. It denies that possible know- 
ledge is to be limited (a) to sense impressions, (b) to any 
process of intellectation, (c) to the unfolding of the content of 
normal consciousness. Such diagrams of experience, it says, 
are hopelessly incomplete. The mystics find the basis of their 
method not in logic but in life : in the existence of a discover- 
able " real," a spark of true being, within the seeking subject 
which can, in that ineffable experience which they call the 
"act of union," fuse itself with and thus apprehend the reality 
of the sought Object. In theological language, their theory of 
knowledge is that the spirit of man, itself essentially divine, is 
capable of immediate communion with God, the One Reality. 1 

In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the 
beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual 
sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. 
Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and 
looks ; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of 
first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. 
Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a 
diagram — impersonal and unattainable — the Absolute of the 
mystics is lovable, attainable, alive. 

" Oh, taste and see ! " they cry, in accents of astounding 
certainty and joy. a Ours is an experimental science. We can 
but communicate our system, never its result. We come to 
you not as thinkers, but as doers. Leave your deep and absurd 
trust in the senses, with their language of dot and dash, which 
may possibly report fact but can never communicate per- 
sonality. If philosophy has taught you anything, she has 
surely taught you the length of her tether, and the impossibility 
of attaining to the doubtless admirable grazing land which lies 
beyond it. One after another, idealists have arisen who, straining 
frantically at the rope, have announced to the world their ap- 
proaching liberty ; only to be flung back at last into the little 

1 The idea of Divine Union as man's true end is of course of immeasurable 
antiquity. Its first definite appearance in the religious consciousness of Europe 
seems to coincide with the establishment of the Orphic Mysteries in Greece and 
Southern Italy in the sixth century B.C. See Adam, "The Religious Teachers of 
Greece," p. 92. It is also found in the Hermetic writings, which vary between the 
fifth and second century B.C. Compare Petrie, ' ' Personal Religion in Egypt before 
Christianity," p. 102, and Rhode, " Psyche" (1898). 



THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 29 

circle of sensation. But here we are, a small family, it is true, 
yet one that refuses to die out, assuring you that we have 
slipped the knot and are free of those grazing grounds. This is 
evidence which you are bound to bring into account before you 
can add up the sum total of possible knowledge ; for you will 
find it impossible to prove that the world as seen by the 
mystics, ' unimaginable, formless, dark with excess of bright/ 
is less real than that which is expounded by the youngest and 
most promising demonstrator of a physico-chemical universe. 
We will be quite candid with you. Examine us as much as 
you like : our machinery, our veracity, our results. We cannot 
promise that you shall see what we have seen, for here each 
man must adventure for himself; but we defy you to stigmatize 
our experiences as impossible or invalid. Is your world of ex- 
perience so well and logically founded that you dare make of it 
a standard ? Philosophy tells you that it is founded on nothing 
better than the reports of your sensory apparatus and the tradi- 
tional concepts of the race. Certainly it is imperfect, probably 
it is illusion ; in any event, it never touches the foundation of 
things. Whereas "what the world, which truly knows nothing, 
calls ' mysticism,' is the science of ultimates . . . the science of 
self-evident Reality, which cannot be c reasoned about,' because 
it is the object of pure reason or perception." 1 

1 Coventry Patmore, "The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," "Aurea Dicta," 
cxxviii. 



CHAPTER II 
MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 

Another philosophic scheme — Vitalism, the "new philosophy" — Driesch, 
Bergson, Eucken — The vital principle as the essence of reality — Freedom — Spon- 
taneity — Nietzsche — The inclusive character of vitalistic philosophy : physical, 
psychological, spiritual — Vitalism and the mystics — Heracleitus, the father of the 
new philosophy — its other connections — its central idea — The World of Becoming 
— Reality as dynamic — Life as incessant change — Bergson's theory of the intellect 
— of perception — Its relation to mysticism — Reality known by communion — 
Intuition — its partial nature — Rudolph Eucken's teaching — a spiritual vitalism — 
Reality as an "independent spiritual world " — Man's possible attainment of it — he 
is "the meeting-point of various stages of reality" — Rebirth — Denial of the sense 
world — Eucken's teaching and mysticism — Mystics the heroic examples of "indepen- 
dent spiritual life " — Vitalism criticized — its central idea only half a truth — The 
mystic consciousness of reality two-fold — Being and Becoming — Transcendence and 
Immanence — both true — St. Augustine on the Nature of God — Man's instinct for 
the Absolute— Mysticism justifies it — reconciles it with a dynamic universe — 
Boehme — Revelation by strife — Mystic union — its two forms — its agent, the absolute 
element in man — Total mystic experience only expressible in terms of personality — 
How is this experience attained ? 

WE glanced, at the beginning of this inquiry, at the 
universes which result from the various forms of 
credulity practised by the materialist, the idealist, 
and the sceptic. We saw the mystic denying by word and 
act the validity of the foundations on which those universes 
are built : substituting his living experience for their conceptual 
schemes. 

But there is another and wholly distinct way of seeing 
reality — or, more correctly, one aspect of reality — old as to 
its central idea, new as to its applications of that idea. This 
scheme of things — this new system, method or attitude — 
possesses the merit of accepting and harmonizing many 
different forms of experience ; even those supreme experiences 
and intuitions peculiar to the mystics. It is the first great 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 31 

contribution of the twentieth century to the history of man's 
quest of reality. A true " child of its time," it is everywhere 
in the air. Many who hardly know its name have been 
affected by its spirit, and by the vague luminous shadow which 
is always cast before a coming system of thought. Almost 
insensibly, it has already penetrated and modified our attitude, 
not only to philosophy, but to religion, science, art, and 
practical life. Like the breath of spring, impossible to grasp 
and difficult to define, it is instinct with fresh life and 
fertilizes where it goes. It has come upon us from different 
directions : already possesses representatives on each of the 
three great planes of thought. Driesch 1 and other biologists 
have applied it in the sphere of organic life. Bergson, 2 starting 
from psychology, has taken its intellectual and metaphysical 
aspects in hand. Rudolph Eucken3 has developed from, or 
beside it, a living Philosophy of the Spirit, of man's relations 
to the Real : the nearest approach, perhaps, which any modern 
thinker has made to a constructive mysticism. 

At the bottom of these three very different philosophies 
the same principle may be discerned ; the principle, that is to 
say, of Vitalism, of a free spontaneous and creative life as the 
very essence of the Real. Not law but aliveness, incalculable 
and indomitable, is their motto : not human logic, but actual 
living experience, is their text. The Vitalists, whether the 
sphere of their explorations be biology, psychology or ethics, 
see the whole Cosmos, the physical and spiritual worlds, as 
instinct with initiative and spontaneity : as above all things free. 
For them, nature is " on the dance " : one cannot calculate her 
acts by the nice processes of dialectic. Though she be con- 
ditioned by the matter with which she works, her freedom is 
stronger than her chains. Pushing out from within, seeking 
expression, she buds and breaks forth into original creation.4 

1 " The Science and Philosophy of Organism," Giffbrd Lectures, 1907-8. 
- " Les Donnees Immediates de la Conscience " (1889), " Matiere et Memoire " 
(1896*, " L'Evolution Creatrice " (1907). 

3 " Der Kampf urn einen geistigen Lebensinhalt" (1896), " Der Sinn und Wert 
des Lebens" (1908), &c. See Bibliography. 

4 The researches of Driesch (op. cit.) and of de Vries (" The Mutation Theory," 1910) 
have done much to establish the truth of this contention upon the scientific plane. Note 
particularly Driesch's account of the spontaneous responsive changes in the embryo 
sea-urchin, and de Vries' extraordinary description of the escaped stock of Evening 
Primrose, varying now this way, now that, "as if swayed by a restless internal tide." 



32 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

The iron laws of the determinists are merely her habits, not 
her fetters : and man, in seeing nature in the terms of " cause and 
effect/' has been the dupe of his own limitations and prejudices. 

Bergson, Nietzsche, Eucken, though they differ in their 
opinion as to life's meaning, are alike in this vision : in the 
stress which they lay on the supreme importance and value of 
life — a great Cosmic life transcending and including our own. 
This is materialism inside out: for here what we call the 
universe is presented to us as an expression of life, not life as 
an expression or by-product of the universe. The strange 
passionate philosophy of Nietzsche, that unbalanced John the 
Baptist of the modern world, is really built upon an intense 
belief in this supernal nature and value of Life, Action and 
Strength : and spoilt by the one-sided individualism which pre- 
vented him from holding a just balance between the great and 
significant life of the Ego and the greater and more significant 
life of the All. 

Obviously, the peculiar merit of the vitalistic philosophy 
lies in its ability to satisfy so many different thinkers, starting 
from such diverse points in our common experience. On the 
phenomenal side it seems able to accept and transfigure the 
statements of physical science. In its metaphysical aspect it 
leaves place for those ontological speculations which take their 
rise in psychology. It is friendly to those who demand an 
important place for moral and spiritual activity in the universe. 
Finally — though here we must be content with deduction rather 
than declaration — it leaves in the hands of the mystics that 
unique power of attaining to Absolute Reality which they have 
always claimed : shows them as the true possessors of freedom, 
the torch-bearers of the race. 

Did it acknowledge its ancestors with that reverence which 
is their due, Vitalism would identify itself with the great name 
of Heracleitus ; the mystic philosopher, who, in the fifth cen- 
tury B.C., introduced its central idea to the European world. 1 
It is — though this statement might annoy some of its inter- 
preters — both a Hellenic and a Christian system of thought : and 
represents the reappearance of intuitions which have too long 
been kept in the hiddenness by the leaders of the race. A living 

1 The debt to Heracleitus is acknowledged by Professor Schiller. See " Studies 
in Humanism," pp. 39, 40. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 33 

theologian has said, that as in hats so in heresies, the very 
latest creation is generally a revival of forgotten fashions of the 
past. This law applies with peculiar force to systems of 
philosophy, which generally owe more to the judicious resuscita- 
tion of that which sleeps, than to the birth of that which 
has been newly conceived. 

I have said that, so far as its ontology is concerned, this 
" new " way of seeing the Real goes back to Heracleitus, whose 
" Logos " or Energizing Fire is but another symbol for that free 
and living Spirit of Becoming, that indwelling creative power, 
which Vitalism acknowledges as the very soul or immanent 
reality of things. This eternal and substantial truth the 
Vitalists have picked up, retranslated into modern terms and 
made available for modern men. In its view of the proper 
function of the intellect it has some unexpected affinities with 
Aristotle, and after him with St. Thomas Aquinas ; regarding 
it as a departmental affair, not — with the Platonists — as the 
organ of ultimate knowledge. Its theory of knowledge is close 
to that of the mystics : or would be, if those wide-eyed gazers 
on reality had interested themselves in any psychological theory 
of their own experiences. 

A philosophy which can harmonize such diverse elements as 
these, is likely to be useful in our present attempt towards 
an understanding of mysticism : for it clearly illustrates certain 
aspects of perceived reality which other systems ignore. It has 
the further recommendation of involving not a mere diagram of 
metaphysical possibilities, but a genuine theory of knowledge. 
That is to say, its scope includes psychology as well as 
philosophy : the consideration, not only of the nature of Reality 
but also of the self s power of knowing it ; the machinery of 
contact between the mind and the flux of things. Hence there is 
about it a wholeness, an inclusive quality very different from the 
tidy ring-fenced systems of other schools of thought. It has no 
edges, and if it be true to itself should have no negations. It is 
a vision, not a map. 

Now the primary difference between Vitalism and the 
philosophies which we have already considered is this. Its 
Word of Power, its central idea, is not Being but Becoming. 1 

1 See, for the substance of this and the following pages, the works of Henri 
Bergson already mentioned. I am here also enormously indebted to the personal 
D 



34 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Translated into the language of Platonic theology, not the 
changeless One, the Absolute, but His energizing Thought — the 
Son, the Creative Logos — is at once the touchstone of truth, the 
end of knowledge, the supreme reality which it proposes as 
accessible to human consciousness. 

"All things," said Heracleitus, "are in a state of flux." 
Everything happens through strife." (f Reality is a condition 
of unrest." ■ Such is also the opinion of Bergson and his 
disciples ; who, agreeing in this with the champions of physical 
science, look upon the Real as dynamic rather than static, as 
becoming rather than being perfect, and invite us to see in Time 
— the precession or flux of things — the verv stuff of reality — 



From the fixed lull of Heaven she saw 

Time like a pulse shake fierce 
Through all the worlds"—* 



said Rossetti of the Blessed Damozel. Bergson, seeing from 
another standpoint, ignores, if he does not deny, the existence 
of the " fixed lull," the still Eternity, the point of rest ; and finds 
everywhere the pulse of Time, the vast unending storm of life and 
love. Reality, says Bergson, is pure creative Life ; a definition 
which excludes those ideas of perfection and finality involved in 
the idealist's concept of Pure Being as the Absolute and- Un- 
changing One. This life, as he sees it, is fed from within rather 
than upheld from without. Itj evolves by means of its own 
inherent and spontaneous creative power. The biologist's 
Nature " so careful of the type " ; the theologian's Creator 
external to h. universe, and " holding all things in the hollow 
of His hand " : these are gone, and in their place we have a 
universe teeming .with free individuals, each self-creative, each 
evolving eternally, yet towards no term. 

The first feeling of the philosopher initiated into this system 
is that of the bewildered traveller who " could not see the wood 
for trees." The deep instinct of the human mind that there 

help of my friend Mr. William Scott Palmer, whose lucid interpretations have done 
so much towards familiarizing English readers with Bergson's philosophy ; and to 
Mr. Willdon Carr's paper on ■ ' Bergson's Theory of Knowledge," read before the 
Aristotelian Society, December, 1908. 

1 Heracleitus, Fragments, 46, 84. 2 First edition, canto x. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 35 

must be a unity, an orderly plan in the universe, that the strung- 
along beads of experience do really form a rosary, though it 
be one which we cannot repeat, is here deliberately thwarted. 
Creation, Activity, Movement ; this, says Vitalism, rather than 
any merely apparent law and order, any wholeness, is the 
essential quality of the Real — is the Real : and life is an eternal 
Becoming, a ceaseless changefulness. Boldly adopting that 
Hermetic principle of analogy " Quod i?iferius sicut quod 
superius" J which occult and mystical thinkers have always 
loved, it invites us to see in that uninterrupted change which is 
the condition of our normal consciousness, a true image, a 
microcosm of the living universe as a part of which that con- 
sciousness has been evolved. 

If we accept this theory, we must then impute to life in its 
fullness — the huge, many levelled, many coloured life, the 
innumerable worlds which escape the rhythm of our senses ; 
not merely that patch of physical life which those senses 
perceive — a divinity, a greatness and splendour of destiny far 
beyond that with which it is credited by those who hold to a 
physico-chemical theory of the universe. We must perceive in 
it, as the mystics have done, " the beating of the Heart of God " ; 
and agree with Heracleitus that " there is but one wisdom, to 
understand the knowledge by which all things are steered 
through the All." 2 

Union with reality — apprehension of it — will then upon this 
hypothesis be union with life at its most intense point : in its 
most dynamic aspect. It will be a deliberate harmony set up 
with the Logos which that same far-seeing philosopher described 
as " man's most constant companion." Ergo, sJfi the mystic, 
union with a Personal and Conscious spiritual existence, 
immanent in the world — one form, one half of the union which 
I have always sought : since this is clearly life in its highest 
manifestation. Beauty, Goodness, Splendour, Love, all those 
words of glamour which exhilarate the soul, are but the man- 
made names of aspects or qualities picked out by human 
intuition as characteristic of this intense and eternal Life in 
which is the life of men. 

How, then, may we know this Life, this creative and 
original soul of things, in which we are bathed ; in which, as in a 
1 See below, Pt. I, Cap. VII. 2 Heracleitus, op. cit. 



36 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

river, swept along? Not, says Bergson bluntly, by any intel- 
lectual means. The mind which thinks it knows Reality 
because it has made a diagram of Reality, is merely the dupe of 
its own categories. The intellect is a specialized aspect of the 
self, a form of consciousness : but specialized for very different 
purposes than those of metaphysical speculation. Life has 
evolved it in the interests of life ; has made it capable of dealing 
with " solids," with concrete things. With these it is at home. 
Outside of them it becomes dazed, uncertain of itself; for it is 
no longer doing its natural work, which is to help life, not to 
know it. In the interests of experience, and in order to grasp 
perceptions, the intellect breaks up experience, which is in 
reality a continuous stream, an incessant process of change and 
response with no separate parts, into purely conventional 
"moments," "periods," or psychic "states." It picks out 
from the flow of reality those bits which are significant for 
human life; which "interest" it, catch its attention. From 
these it makes up a mechanical world in which it dwells, and 
which seems quite real until it is subjected to criticism. It does, 
says Bergson, in an apt and already celebrated simile, the work 
of a cinematograph : takes snapshots of something which is 
always moving, and by means of these successive static repre- 
sentations — none of which are real, because Life, the object 
photographed, never was at rest — it recreates a picture of life, of 
motion. This picture, this rather jerky representation of divine 
harmony, from which innumerable moments are left out, is very 
useful for practical purposes : but it is not reality, because it is 
not alive. 1 

This " real world," then, is the result of your selective activity, 
and the nature of your selection is largely outside your control. 
Your cinematograph machine goes at a certain pace, takes its 
snapshots at certain intervals. Anything which goes too quickly 
for these intervals, it either fails to catch, or merges with pre- 
ceding and succeeding movements to form a picture with which 
it can deal. Thus we treat, for instance, the storm of vibra- 
tions which we convert into " sound " and " light." Slacken or 

1 On the complete and undivided nature of our experience in its "Wholeness," 
and the sad work our analytic brains make of it when they come to pull it to pieces, 
Bradley has some valuable contributory remarks in his " Oxford Lectures on 
Poetry," p. 15. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 37 

accelerate its clock-time, change its rhythmic activity, and at 
once you take a different series of snapshots, and have as a 
result a different picture of the world. Thanks to the time at 
which the normal human machine is set, it registers for us what 
we call, in our simple way, " the natural world." A slight 
accession of humility or common sense might teach us that 
a better title would be " our. natural world." 

Now let human consciousness change or transcend its 
rhythm, and any other aspect of any other world may be ours 
as a result. Hence the mystics' claim that in their ecstasies 
they change the conditions of consciousness, and apprehend a 
deeper reality which is unrelated to human speech, cannot be 
dismissed as unreasonable. Do not then confuse that intellect, 
that surface-consciousness which man has trained to be an organ 
of utility and nothing more, and which therefore can only 
deal adequately with the " given " world of sense, with that 
mysterious something in you — inarticulate but inextinguishable 
— by which you are aware that a greater truth exists. This 
truth, whose neighbourhood you feel, and for which you long, is 
Life. You are in it all the while, " like a fish in the sea, like a 
bird in the air," as St. Mechthild of Hackborn said many 
centuries ago. 1 

Give yourself, then, to this divine and infinite life, this 
mysterious Cosmic activity in which you are immersed, of 
which you are born. Trust it. Let it surge in on you. Cast 
off, as the mystics are always begging you to do, the fetters of 
the senses, the " remora of desire " ; and making your interests 
identical with those of the All, rise to freedom, to that spon- 
taneous, creative, artistic life which, inherent in every individual 
self, is our share of the life of the Universe. You are yourself 
vital — a free centre of energy — did you but know it. You can 
move to higher levels, to greater reality, truer self-fulfilment, if 
you will. Though you be, as Plato said, like an oyster in your 
shell, you can open that shell to the living waters without, draw 
from the " Immortal Vitality." Thus only — by contact with the 
real — shall you know reality. Cor ad cor loquitur. 

The Indian mystics declare substantially the same truth 
when they say that the illusion of finitude is only to be escaped 
by relapsing into the substantial and universal life, abolishing 
1 " Liber Specialis Gratiae," 1. ii. cap. xxvi. 



38 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

individuality. So too, by a deliberate self-abandonment to that 
which Plato calls the " saving madness " of ecstasy, did the 
initiates of Dionysus " draw near to God." So their Christian 
cousins assert that " self-surrender " is the only way : that they 
must die to live, must lose to find : that knowing implies being : 
that the method and secret which they have always practised 
consists merely in a meek and loving union — the synthesis 
of passion and self-sacrifice — with that divine and unseparated 
life, that larger consciousness in which the soul is grounded, 
and which they hold to be conterminous with God. In their 
hours of contemplation, they deliberately empty themselves 
of the false images of the intellect, neglect the cinematograph of 
sense. Then only are they capable of transcending the merely 
intellectual levels of consciousness and perceiving that Reality 
which " hath no image." 

"Pilgrimage to the place of the wise," said Jelalu 'd Din, "is 
to find escape from the flame of separation." It is the mystics' 
secret in a nutshell. " When I stand empty in God's will 
and empty of God's will and of all His works and of God 
Himself," cries Eckhart with his usual violence of language, 
" then am I above all creatures and am neither God nor 
creature, but I am what I was and evermore shall be." * He 
attains, that is to say, by this escape from a narrow selfhood, 
not to identity with God — that were only conceivable upon 
a basis of pantheism — but to an identity with his own sub- 
stantial life, and through it with the life of a real and living 
universe; in symbolic language, with "the thought of the Divine 
Mind " whereby union with that Mind in the essence or ground 
of the soul becomes possible. 

The first great message of this Vitalistic philosophy, this 
majestic dream of Time and Motion, is then seen to be — Cease 
to identify your intellect and your self: a primary lesson which 
none who purpose the study of mysticism may neglect. 
Become at least aware of, if you cannot "know," the larger, 
truer self: that free creative self which constitutes your life, 
as distinguished from the scrap of consciousness which is its 
servant. 

How then, asks the small consciously-seeking personality 
of the normal man, am I to become aware of this, my 
x Meister Eckhart, Pred. Ixxxvii. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 39 

larger self, and of the free, eternal, spiritual life which it 
lives ? 

Here philosophy, emerging from the water-tight compart- 
ment in which metaphysics have lived too long retired, calls 
in psychology ; and tells us that in intuition, in a bold reliance 
on contact between the totality of the self and the external 
world — perhaps too in those strange states of lucidity which 
accompany great emotion and defy analysis — lies the normal 
man's best chance of attaining, as it were, a swift and sidelong 
knowledge of this real. Smothered in daily life by the fretful 
activities of our surface-mind, reality emerges in our great 
moments ; and, seeing ourselves in its radiance, we know, for 
good or evil, what we are. " We are not pure intellects . . . 
around our conceptional and logical thought there remains 
a vague, nebulous Somewhat, the substance at whose expense 
the luminous nucleus we call the intellect is formed." 1 
In this aura, this diffused sensitiveness, we are asked to 
find man's medium of communication with the Universal 
Life. 

Such partial, dim and fragmentary perceptions of the Real, 
however, such "excursions into the Absolute," cannot be looked 
upon as a satisfaction of man's hunger for Truth. He does 
not want to peep, but to live. Hence he cannot be satisfied 
with anything less than a total and permanent adjustment 
of his being to the greater life of reality. This alone, as 
Rudolph Eucken has well pointed out, can resolve the dishar- 
monies between the self and the world, and give meaning 
and value to human life. 2 

The possibility of this adjustment — of union between man's 
life and that " independent spiritual life " which is the stuff 
of reality — is the theme alike of mysticism and of Eucken's 
spiritual vitalism ; or, as he prefers to call it, his Activistic 

1 Willdon Carr, op. cit. 

2 " It seems as if man could never escape from himself, and yet, when shut in to 
the monotony of his own sphere, he is overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness. The 
only remedy here is radically to alter the conception of man himself, to distinguish 
within him the narrower and the larger life, the life that is straitened and finite 
and can never transcend itself, and an infinite life through which he enjoys com' 
munion with the immensity and the truth of the universe. Can man rise to this 
spiritual level ? On the possibility of his doing so rests all our hope of supplying any 
meaning or value to life " (" Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 81). 



: ~ 



40 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Philosophy. 1 Reality, says Eucken, is an independent spiritual 
world, unconditioned by the apparent world of sense. To know 
it and to live in it is man's true destiny. His point of contact 
with it is personality : the inward fount of his being : his heart, 
not his head. Man is real, and in the deepest sense alive, in 
virtue of this free personal life-principle within him : but he is 
bound and blinded by the ties set up between his surface- 
intelligence and the sense-world. The struggle for reality must 
be a struggle on man's part to transcend the sense-world, escape 
its bondage. He must renounce it, and be "re-born" to a 
higher level of consciousness ; shifting his centre of interest 
from the natural to the spiritual plane. According to the 
thoroughness with which he does this, will be the amount 
of real life he enjoys. The initial break with the " world," the 
refusal to spend one's life communing with one's own cinemato- 
graph picture, is essential if the freedom of the infinite is to 
be attained. Our life, says Eucken, does not move upon a 
single level, but upon two levels at once — the natural and 
the spiritual. The key to the puzzle of man lies in the fact 
that he is " the meeting point of various stages of Reality." 2 
All his difficulties and triumphs are grounded in this. The 
whole question for him is, which world shall be central for 
him — the real, vital, all-embracing life we call Spirit, or 
the lower life of sense ? Shall " Existence," the superficial 
obvious thing, or " Substance," the underlying verity, be his 
home ? Shall he remain the slave of the senses with their 
habits and customs, or rise to a plane of consciousness, of 
heroic endeavour, in which — participating in the life of spirit — 
he knows reality because he is real ? 

The mystics, one and all, have answered this question in 
the same sense : and, centuries before the birth of activistic 
philosophy, they have proved in their own experience that 
its premises are true. This philosophic diagram, this appli- 
cation of the vitalistic idea to the transcendental world, does 
in fact fit the observed facts of mysticism far more closely 

1 The essentials of Professor Eucken's teaching are present in all his chief works : 
but will be found conveniently summarized in " Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens." I 
am also greatly indebted to Mr. Boyce Gibson's brilliant exposition M Rudolph 
Eucken's Philosophy." 

2 «' Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 121. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 41 

even than it fits the observed facts of man's ordinary mental 
life. 

(i) The primary break with the sense- world. (2) The 
" new " birth and development of the spiritual consciousness 
on high levels — in Eucken's eyes an essential factor in the 
attainment of reality. (3) That ever closer and deeper depend- 
ence on and appropriation of the fullness of the Divine Life ; 
the conscious participation in, and active union with the 
infinite and eternal. These three imperatives of Eucken's 
system, as we shall see later, form an exact description of the 
psychological process through which the mystics pass. If then 
Eucken be right in pointing to this transcendence as the 
highest destiny of the race, mysticism becomes the crown of 
man's ascent towards Reality ; the orderly completion of the 
universal plan. 

The mystics show us this independent spiritual life, this 
fruition of the Absolute, enjoyed with a fullness to which others 
cannot attain. They are the heroic examples of the life of spirit; 
just as the great artists, the great discoverers, are the heroic 
examples of the life of beauty and the life of truth. Directly 
participating, like all artists, in the Divine Life, they are always 
persons of exuberant vitality : but this vitality expresses itself in 
unusual forms, hard of understanding for ordinary men. When 
we see a picture or a poem, hear a musical composition, we 
accept it as an expression of life, an earnest of the power which 
brought it forth. But the deep contemplations of the great 
mystic, his visionary reconstructions of reality, and the frag- 
ments of them which he is able to report, do not seem to 
us — as they are — the equivalents, or more often the superiors 
of the artistic and scientific achievements of other great 
men. 

Mysticism, then, offers us the history, as old as civilization, 
f a race of adventurers who have carried to its term the process 
of a deliberate and active return to the divine fount of 
things, have surrendered themselves indeed to the life-movement 
of the universe : hence have lived with an intenser life than other 
men can ever know. They have transcended the " sense- world " 
and lived on high levels the spiritual life. Therefore they are 
types of all that our latent spiritual consciousness, which shows 
itself in the " hunger for the Absolute," can be made to mean to 



„, 



42 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

us if we develop it ; and have in this respect a unique import- 
ance for the race. 

It is the mystics, too, who have perfected that method of 
intuition, that knowledge by union, the existence of which 
philosophy has been driven to acknowledge. But where the 
metaphysician obtains at best a sidelong glance at that Being 
" unchanging yet elusive/' whom he has so often defined but 
never discovered, the artist a brief and dazzling vision of the 
Beauty which is Truth, they gaze with confidence into the very 
eyes of the Beloved. 

The mystics, again, declare themselves to know the divinely 
real, free, and active "World of Becoming" which Vitalistic 
philosophy expounds to us. They are, by their very constitu- 
tion, acutely conscious of the Divine Immanence and its unrest- 
ing travail : it is in them and they are in it : or, as they put it 
in their blunt theological way, " the spirit of God is within you." 
But they are not satisfied with this statement and this know- 
ledge ; and here it is that they part company with the Vitalists. 
It is, they think, but half a truth. To know Reality in this 
way, to know it in its dynamic aspect, enter into " the great 
life of the All " : this is indeed, in the last resort, to know it 
supremely from the point of view of man — to liberate from 
selfhood the human consciousness — but it is not to know it 
from the point of view of God. There are planes of being 
beyond this ; countries dark to the intellect, deeps in which 
only the very greatest contemplatives have looked. These, 
coming forth, have declared with Ruysbroeck that "God accord- 
ing to the Persons is Eternal Work, but according to the 
Essence and Its perpetual stillness He is Eternal Rest." 1 

The full spiritual consciousness of the true mystic is 
developed not in one, but in two apparently opposite but 
really complementary directions : — 

" . . . io vidi 
Ambo le corte del del manifeste." 3 

On the one hand he is intensely aware of, and knows 
himself to be at one with that active World of Becoming, 
that deep and primal life of the All, from which his own 

* " De Septem Gradibus Amoris," cap. xiv. 2 Par. xxx. 95. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 43 

life takes its rise. Hence, though he has broken for ever 
with the bondage of the senses, he perceives in every mani- 
festation of life a sacramental meaning ; a loveliness, a 
wonder, a heightened significance, which is hidden from other 
men. He may, with St. Francis, call the Sun and the Moon, 
Water and Fire, his brothers and his sisters : or receive, with 
Blake, the message of the trees. Because of his cultivation 
of disinterested love, because his outlook is not conditioned by 
" the exclusive action of the will-to-live," he has attained the 
power of communion with the living reality of the universe ; 
and in this respect can truly say that he finds " God in all and 
all in God." Thus, the skilled spiritual vision of Lady Julian, 
transcending the limitations of human perception, entering into 
harmony with a larger world whose rhythms cannot be received 
by common men, saw the all-enfolding Divine Life, the mesh of 
reality. " For as the body is clad in the cloth," she said, " and 
the flesh in the skin and the bones in the flesh and the heart in 
the whole, so are we, soul and body, clad in the Goodness of 
God and enclosed. Yea, and more homely : for all these may 
waste and wear away, but the Goodness of God is ever whole." * 
Many mystical poets and pantheistic mystics never pass beyond 
this degree of lucidity. 

On the other hand, the full mystic consciousness also attains 
to what is, I think, its really characteristic quality. It develops 
the power of apprehending the Absolute, Pure Being, the 
utterly Transcendent : or, as its possessor would say, can rise 
to "passive union with God." This all-round expansion of 
consciousness, with its dual power of knowing by communion 
the temporal and eternal, immanent and transcendent aspects 
of reality — the life of the All, vivid, flowing and changing, and 
the changeless, conditionless life of the One — is the peculiar 
mark, the ultimo sigillo of the great mystic, and must never be 
forgotten in studying his life and work. 

As the ordinary man is the meeting-place between two 
stages of reality — the sense-world and the world of spiritual life 
— so the mystic, standing head and shoulders above ordinary 
men, is again the meeting-place between two orders. Or, if you 
like it better, he is able to perceive and react to reality under 
two modes. On the one hand he knows, and rests in, the 
* «• Revelations of Divine Love," cap. vi. 



44 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

eternal world of Pure Being, the " Sea Pacific " of the Godhead, 
indubitably present to him in his ecstasies, attained by him 
in the union of love. On the other, he knows — and works in — 
that " stormy sea," the vital World of Becoming which is the 
expression of Its will. " Illuminated men," says Ruysbroeck, 
\ are caught up, above the reason, into naked vision. There 
the Divine Unity dwells and calls them. Hence their bare 
vision, cleansed and free, penetrates the activity of all created 
things, and pursues it to search it out even to its height." x 

Though philosophy has striven since thought began — and 
striven in vain — to resolve the paradox of Being and Becoming, 
of Eternity and Time, she has failed strangely enough to 
perceive that a certain type of personality has substituted 
experience for her guesses at truth, and achieved its solution, 
not by the dubious processes of thought, but by direct percep- 
tion. To the great mystic the "problem of the Absolute" 
presents itself in terms of life, not in terms of dialectic. He 
solves it in terms of life : by a change or growth of conscious- 
ness which — thanks to his peculiar genius — enables him to 
apprehend that two-fold Vision of Reality which eludes the 
perceptive powers of other men. It is extraordinary that this 
fact of experience — a central fact for the understanding of the 
contemplative type — has hitherto received no attention from 
writers upon mysticism. As we proceed with our inquiry, its 
importance, its far-reaching applications in the domains of 
psychology, of theology, of action, will become more and more 
evident. It provides the reason why the mystics could never 
accept the diagram of the Vitalists as a complete statement of 
the nature of Reality. " Whatever be the limits of your know- 
ledge, we know" — they would say — "that the world has another 
aspect than this : the aspect which is present to the Mind of 
God." " Tranquillity according to His essence, activity accord- 
ing to His nature : perfect stillness, perfect fecundity," 2 says 
Ruysbroeck again, this is the two-fold character of the Absolute. 
That which to us is action, to Him, they declare, is rest, " His 
very peace and stillness coming from the brimming fullness of 
His infinite life." 3 That which to us is Many, to that Transcen- 

x Ruysbroeck, "Samuel" (Hello, p. 201). 

2 Ibid., " De Vera Contemplatione " (Hello, p. 175). 

3 Von Hllgel, u The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. ii. p. 1 32. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 45 

dent Knovver is One. Our World of Becoming rests on the 
bosom of that Pure Being which has ever been the final Object 
of man's quest : the " river in which we cannot bathe twice " is 
the stormy flood of life flowing toward that divine sea. " How 
glorious," says the Voice of the Eternal to St. Catherine of 
Siena, " is that soul which has indeed been able to pass from the 
stormy ocean to Me, the Sea Pacific, and in that Sea, which 
is Myself, to fill the pitcher of her heart." " 

The evolution of the mystic consciousness, then, brings its 
possessors to this transcendent point of view : their secret is 
this unity in diversity, this stillness in strife. Here they are in 
harmony with Heracleitus rather than with his new interpreters. 
That most mystical of philosophers discerned a hidden unity 
beneath the battle, transcending all created opposites ; and, 
in the true mystical spirit, taught his disciples that " Having 
hearkened not unto me but unto the Logos, it is wise to confess 
that all things are one."* This is the secret at which the 
idealists' arid concept of Pure Being has tried, so timidly, to 
hint : and which the Vitalists' more intimate, more actual 
concept of Becoming has tried, so unnecessarily, to destroy. 
We shall see the glorious raiment in which the Christian 
mystics deck it when we come to consider their theological map 
of the quest. 

If it be objected — and this objection has been made by 
advocates of each school of thought — that the existence of the 
idealists' and mystics' " Absolute " is utterly inconsistent with 
the deeply alive, striving spiritual life which the Vitalists 
identify with reality, I reply that both these concepts at bottom 
are but symbols of realities which the human mind can never 
reach : and that the idea of stillness, unity and peace is and 
has ever been humanity's best translation of its final intuitive 
perception of God. " ' In the midst of silence a hidden word was 
spoken to me.' Where is this Silence, and where is the place 
in which this word is spoken ? It is in the purest that the soul 
can produce, in her noblest part, in the Ground, even the Being 
of the Soul." 3 So Eckhart : and here he does but subscribe to a 
universal tradition. The mystics have always insisted that " Be 

1 St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogo, cap. lxxxix. 

a Heracleitus, op. cit. 

3 Meister Eckhart, Pred. i. 



46 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

still, be still, and know" is the condition of man's purest and 
most direct apprehensions of reality : that somehow quiet is the 
truest and deepest activity : and Christianity when she formu- 
lated her philosophy made haste to adopt and express this 
paradox. 

"Quid es ergo, Dens meus?" said St. Augustine, and gave 
an answer in which the vision of the mystic, the genius of the 
philosopher combined to hint something at least of the flaming 
heart of reality, the paradox of the intimacy and majesty of that 
all-embracing, all-transcending One. " Summe, optime, poten- 
tissime, omnipotentissime, misericordissime, et justissime, secre- 
tissime et presentissime, pulcherrime et fortissime ; stabilis et 
incomprehensibilis ; immutabilis, mutans omnia : Numquam 
novus, nunquam vetus. . . . Semper agens, semper quietus : 
colligens et non egens : portans et implens et protegens ; creans 
et nutriens et perficiens : quaerens cum nihil desit tibi. . . . 
Quid dicimus, Deus meus, vita mea, dulcedo mea sancta? Aut 
quid dicit aliquis, cum de te dicit?" x 

It has been said that "Whatever we may do, our hunger 
for the Absolute will never cease." The hunger — that innate 
craving for, and intuition of, a final Unity, a changeless good — 
will go on, however heartily we may feed on those fashionable 
systems which offer us a pluralistic or empirical universe. If, 
now, we admit in all living creatures — as Vitalists must do — an 
instinct of self-preservation, a free directive force which may be 
trusted and which makes for life ; is it just to deny such an 
instinct to the human soul? The "entelechy" of the Vitalists, 
the " hidden steersman," drives the phenomenal world on and 
up. What about that other sure instinct embedded in the race, 
breaking out again and again, which drives the spirit on and up ; 
spurs it eternally towards an end which it feels to be definite 

* Aug. Conf., bk. i. cap. iv. "What art Thou, then, my God? . . . Highest, 
best, most potent [i.e., dynamic], most omnipotent [i.e., transcendent], most merciful 
and most just, most deeply hid and yet most near. Fairest, yet strongest : steadfast, 
yet unseizable ; unchangeable yet changing all things ; never new, yet never old. . . . 
Ever busy, yet ever at rest ; gathering yet needing not : bearing, filling, guarding ; 
creating, nourishing and perfecting; seeking though Thou hast no wants. . . . 
What can I say, my God, my life, my holy joy ? or what can any say who speaks of 
Thee?" Compare the strikingly similar Sufi definition of the Nature of God, as 
given in Palmer's "Oriental Mysticism," pp. 22, 23. "First and last, End and 
Limit of all things, incomparable and unchangeable, always near yet always far," &c. 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 47 

yet cannot define? Shall we distrust this instinct for the 
Absolute, as living and ineradicable as any other of our powers, 
merely because the new philosophy finds it difficult to accom- 
modate and to describe ? 

"We must," says Plato in the " Timseus," " make a distinction 
of the two great forms of being, and ask, ' What is that which 
Is and has no Becoming, and what is that which is always 
becoming and never Is ? ' " z Without necessarily subscribing 
to the Platonic answer to this question, I think we may at any 
rate acknowledge that the question itself is sound and worth 
asking ; that it expresses a perennial demand of human nature : 
and that the analogy of man's other instincts and cravings assures 
us that these his fundamental demands always indicate the 
existence of a supply. 2 The great defect of Vitalism, considered 
as a system, is that it only professes to answer half of it ; the 
half which Absolute Idealism disdained to answer at all. 

We have seen that the mystical experience, the fullest all- 
round experience in regard to the transcendental world which 
is attainable by humanity, declares to us that there are two 
aspects, two planes of discoverable Reality. We have seen also 
that hints of these two planes — often clear statements concern- 
ing them — abound in mystical literature of the personal first- 
hand type.3 Pure Being, says Boutroux in the course of his 
exposition of Boehme,4 has two characteristic manifestations. 
It shows itself to us as Power, by means of strife, of the 
struggle and opposition of its own qualities. But it shows 
itself to us as Reality, in harmonizing and reconciling within 
itself these discordant opposites. 

Its manifestation as Power, then, is for us in the dynamic 
World of Becoming, amidst the thud and surge of that life which 
is compounded of paradox, of good and evil, joy and sorrow, 
life and death. Here, Boehme declares that the Absolute God 
is voluntarily self-revealing. But each revelation has as its 

1 Timaeus, § 27. 

2 "A natural craving," said Aquinas, "cannot be in vain"; and the newest 
philosophy is creeping back to this "mediaeval " point of view. Compare M Summa 
Contra Gentiles," 1. ii. cap. lxxix. 

3 Compare Dante's vision in Par. xxx., where he sees Reality first as the 
streaming River of Light, the flux of things ; and then, when his sight has been 
purged, as achieved Perfection, the Sempiternal Rose. 

4 E. Boutroux, " Le Philosophe Allemand, Jacob Boehme," p. 18. 



48 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

condition the appearance of its opposite : light can only be 
recognized at the price of knowing darkness, life needs death 
love needs wrath. Hence if Pure Being — the Good, Beautiful 
and True — is to reveal itself, it must do so by evoking and 
opposing its contrary : as in the Hegelian dialectic no idea is 
complete without its negative. Such a revelation by strife, 
however, is rightly felt by man to be incomplete. Absolute 
Reality, the Player whose sublime music is expressed at the 
cost of this everlasting friction between bow and lyre, is present, 
it is true, in His music. But He is best known in that " light 
behind," that unity where all these opposites are lifted up into 
harmony, into a higher synthesis : and the melody is perceived, 
not as a difficult progress of sound, but as a whole. 

We have, then, {a) The Absolute Reality which the Greeks, 
and every one after them, meant by that seemingly chill 
abstraction which they called Pure Being : that Absolute One, 
unconditioned and undiscoverable, in Whom all is resumed. 
Changeless, yet changer of all, this One is the undifferentiated 
Godhead of Eckhart, the Transcendent Father of ordinary 
Christian theology. It is the great contribution of the mystics 
to humanity's knowledge of the real that they find in this 
Absolute, in defiance of the metaphysicians, a personal object 
of love, the goal of their quest, the " Country of the Soul." 

(b) But, contradicting the nihilism of Eastern contempla- 
tives, they see also a reality in the dynamic side of things : in 
the seething pot of appearance. They are aware of an eternal 
Becoming, a striving, free, evolving life, not merely as a 
shadow-show, but as an implicit of their Cosmos : God's mani- 
festation or showing, in which He is immanent, in which His 
Spirit truly works and strives. It is in this plane of reality 
that all individual life is immersed : this is the stream which set 
out from the Heart of God and " turns again home." 

The mystic knows his task to be the attainment of Being, 
union with the One, the " return to the Father's heart " : for the 
parable of the Prodigal Son is to him the history of the 
universe. This union is to be attained, first by co-operation in 
that Life which bears him up, in which he is immersed. He 
must become conscious of this " great life of the All," merge 
himself in it, if he would find his way back whence he came. 
Vae solL Hence there are really two separate acts of " divine 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 49 

union," two separate kinds of illumination involved in the 
Mystic Way : the dual character of the spiritual consciousness 
brings a dual responsibility in its train. First, there is the 
union with Life, with the World of Becoming: and parallel with 
it the illumination by which the mystic "gazes upon a more 
veritable world." Secondly, there is the union with Being, with 
the One : and that final, ineffable illumination of pure love 
which is called the " knowledge of God." It is by means of the 
abnormal development of the third factor, the free, creative 
* Spirit," the scrap of Absolute Life which is the ground of his 
soul, that the mystic can (a) conceive and (J?) accomplish these 
transcendent acts. Only Being can know Being : we " behold 
that which we are, and are that which we behold." But there 
is a spark in man's soul, say the mystics, which is real — which 
in fact is — and by its cultivation we may know reality. 

Over and over again — as Being and Becoming, as Eternity 
and Time, as Transcendence and Immanence, Reality and 
Appearance, the One and the Many — these two dominant 
ideas, demands, imperious instincts of man's self will reappear ; 
the warp and woof of his completed universe. On the one 
hand is his ineradicable intuition of a remote, unchanging 
Somewhat calling him : on the other there is his longing for and 
as clear intuition of an intimate, adorable Somewhat, companion- 
ing him. Man's true Real, his only adequate God, must be 
great enough to embrace this sublime paradox, to take up these 
apparent negations into a higher synthesis. Neither the utter 
transcendence of extreme Absolutism, nor the utter immanence 
of the Vitalists will do. Both these, taken alone, are declared 
by the mystics to be incomplete. They conceive that Absolute 
Being who is the goal of their quest as manifesting Himself in 
a World of Becoming : agonizing in it, at one with it, yet though 
semper agens, also semper quietus. The Divine spirit which they 
know to be immanent in the heart and in the universe comes 
forth from and returns to the Transcendent One ; and this 
division of persons in unity of substance completes the " Eternal 
Circle, from Goodness, through Goodness, to Goodness." 

Absolute Being and Becoming, the All and the One, are 
found to be alike inadequate to their definition of this discovered 
Real ; the " triple star of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty." Speak- 
ing always from experience — the most complete experience 



50 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

that is possible to man — they describe to us an Absolute which 
overpasses and includes the Absolute of philosophy, far 
transcends that Cosmic life which it fills and sustains, and 
is best defined in terms of Transcendent Personality ; which 
because of its richness and of the poverty of human speech, 
they have sometimes been driven to define only by negations. 
At once static and dynamic, above life and in it, " all love yet 
all law," eternal in essence though working in time, this vision 
resolves the contraries which tease those who study it from 
without, and swallows up whilst it kindles to life all the partial 
interpretations of metaphysics and of science. 

Here then stands the mystic. By the help of two philo- 
sophies, eked out by the resources of symbolic expression, he 
has contrived to tell us something of his vision and his claim. 
Confronted by that vision — that sublime reconstruction of 
eternity — we may surely ask, indeed, are bound to ask, What 
is the machinery by which this self, akin to the imprisoned 
and sense-fed self of our daily experience, has contrived to slip 
its fetters and rise to those levels of spiritual perception on 
which alone such vision can be possible to man ? How has it 
brought within the field of consciousness those deep intuitions 
which fringe upon Absolute Life ; how developed powers by 
which it is enabled to arrive at this amazing, this superhuman 
concept of the nature of Reality? Psychology will do some- 
thing, perhaps, to help us to an answer to this question ; and it is 
her evidence which we must examine next. But its final 
solution is the secret of the mystics ; and they reply to our 
questioning, when we ask them, in the direct and uncom- 
promising terms of action, not in the refined and elusive periods 
of speculative thought. 

" Come with us," they say to the bewildered and entangled 
self, craving for finality and peace, " and we will show you a way 
out that shall not only be a*i issue from your prison but also a 
pathway to your Home. True, you are immersed, fold upon 
fold, in the World of Becoming ; worse, you are besieged on all 
sides by the persistent illusions of sense. But you too are a 
child of the Absolute. You bear within you the earnest of your 
inheritance. /At the apex of your spirit there is a little door, so 
high up that only by hard climbing can you reach it. There 
the Object of your craving stands and knocks ; thence came 



MYSTICISM AND VITALISM 51 

those persistent messages — faint echoes from the Truth eternally 
hammering at your gates — which disturbed the comfortable life 
of sense. Come up then by this pathway, to those higher levels 
of reality to which, in virtue of the eternal spark in you, you 
belong. Leave your ignoble ease : your clever prattle : your 
absurd attempts to solve the apparent contradictions of a Whole 
too great for your useful little mind to grasp. Trust your deep 
instincts : use your latent powers. Appropriate that divine, 
creative life which is the very substance of your being. Remake 
yourself in its interest, if you would know its beauty and its 
truth. You can only behold that which you are. Only the Real 
can know Reality." 



CHAPTER III 
MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 

Man's craving to know more and love more — His mental machinery — Emotion, 
Intellect, Will — Their demand of absolute objects— Conation and Cognition— Action 
and Thought — Importance of emotion— Love and Will — Concentration — Contempla- 
tion — The mystic sense — its liberation — Passivity — The Mystic State — Supraliminal 
and subliminal personality — The " ground of the soul " — The "subconscious mind " 
— extravagances of this doctrine — The subconscious not the equivalent of the 
transcendental self— Mystical theory of man's spiritual sense — The New Birth — The 
Spiritual Self— Synteresis — The Spark of the Soul — the organ of transcendental 
consciousness — Transcendental Feeling— its expression — The Spark of the Soul sleeps 
in normal men — The mystic's business is to wake it — Function of contemplation — it 
alters the field of consciousness— Dual personality — The hidden self of the Mystic — 
its emergence — Entrancement — Mystical ill-health — Psycho-physical phenomena — 
Mysticism and hysteria— Mysticism and longevity — The mystics' psychic peculiarities 
— their wholeness of life — Genius and mysticism compared — Philo on inspiration — 
The function of passivity — Automatic states — Summary and conclusion 

WE come now to consider the mental apparatus which 
is at the disposal of the self: to ask what it can tell 
us of the method by which she can escape from the 
prison of the sense-world, transcend its rhythm, and attain know- 
ledge of — or conscious contact with — Reality. We have seen 
the normal self close shut within the prison of the senses, and 
making, by the help of science and of philosophy, a survey of the 
premises and furniture : testing the thickness of the walls and 
speculating on the possibility of trustworthy news from without 
penetrating to her cell. Shut with her in that cell, two forces, 
the desire to know more and the desire to love more, are cease- 
lessly at work. Where the first of these cravings predominates, 
we call the result a philosophical or a scientific temperament; 
where it is overpowered by the ardour of unsatisfied love, the 
selfs reaction upon things becomes poetic, artististic, and 
characteristically — though not always explicitly — religious. 
We have seen further that a certain number of persons 

52 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 53 

declare that they have escaped from this prison. Have they 
done so, it can only be in order to satisfy these two hungry 
desires, for these, and these only, make that a prison which 
might otherwise be a comfortable hotel ; and since these desires 
are in all of us, active or latent in varying degrees, it is clearly 
worth while to discover, if we can, the weak point in the walls, 
and that method of attack which is calculated to take advantage 
of this one possible way of escape. 

Before we attempt to define in psychological language the 
way in which the mystic slips the fetters of sense, sets out upon 
his journey towards home, it seems desirable to examine the 
machinery which is at the disposal of the normal, conscious 
self: the creature, or part of a creature, which we recognize 
as " ourselves." Psychologists are accustomed to tell us that 
the messages from without awaken in that self three main 
forms of activity, (i) They arouse in her movements of attrac- 
tion or repulsion, of desire or distaste, which vary in intensity 
from the semi-conscious cravings of the hungry infant to the 
passions of the lover, artist, or fanatic. (2) They stimulate in 
her a sort of digestive process in which she combines and 
cogitates upon the material presented to her ; finally absorbing 
a certain number of the resulting concepts and making them 
part of herself or of her world. (3) The movements of desire, 
or the action of reason, or both in varying combinations, awaken 
in her a determination by which percept and concept issue in 
action ; bodily, mental, or spiritual. 

Hence we say that the main aspects of the self are Emotion, 
Intellect, and Will : and that the nature of the individual is 
emotional, intellectual, or volitional, according to whether feel- 
ing, thought, or will assumes the reins. 

Thanks to the watertight-compartment system of popular 
psychology, we are apt to personify these qualities ; thinking of 
them as sitting, like Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, within the 
mind, and spinning the flax of experience into the thread of life. 
But these three words do not define three separate and mutually 
exclusive things ; rather a Trinity in Unity, three aspects, 
methods, or moments of the same thing — the conscious self's 
reaction on her universe. 1 

1 There is a tendency on the part of J;he younger psychologists to rebel against 
this traditional diagram. Thus Godfernaux says {Revue Philosophique, September, 



54 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Now the unsatisfied self in her emotional aspect wants, as 
we have said, to love more ; her curious intellect wants to know 
more. Both appetites are aware that they are being kept on a 
low diet ; that there really is more to love, and more to know, 
somewhere in the mysterious world without. They know, too, 
that their own powers of affection and understanding are worthy 
of some greater and more durable objective than that provided 
by the illusions of sense. Urged therefore by the cravings of 
feeling or of thought, consciousness is always trying to run out 
to the encounter of the Absolute, and always being forced to 
return. The neat philosophical system, the diagrams of science, 
the " sunset-touch," are tried in turn. Art and life, the accidents 
of our humanity, all foster an emotional outlook ; till the 
moment in which the neglected intellect arises and pronounces 
such an outlook to have no validity. Metaphysics and science 
seem to offer to the intellect an open window towards truth ; 
till the heart looks out and declares this landscape to be a chill 
desert in which she can find no nourishment. These diverse 
aspects of things must be either fused or transcended if the 
whole self is to be satisfied ; for the reality which she seeks has 
got to meet both claims and pay in full. 

When Dionysius the Areopagite divided those angels who 
stand nearest God into the Seraphs who are aflame with perfect 
love, and the Cherubs who are filled with perfect knowledge, he 
only gave expression to the two most intense aspirations of the 
human soul, and described under an image the unattainable 
conditions of her bliss. 1 

Now, there is a sense in which it may be said, that the 
desire of knowledge is a department of the desire of perfeet 
love : since one aspect of that primal, all inclusive passion is 



1902), " Feeling, intelligence, will ! When shall we be delivered from this tedious 
trinity ? When shall we give up, once for all, this classification which corresponds 
to nothing?" The classification, however, is retained here as a matter of general 
convenience. So long as its symbolic character is kept in mind, its advantages prob- 
ably outweigh its defects. 

1 The wise Cherubs, according to the beautiful imagery of Dionysius, are " all 
eyes," but the loving Seraphs are "all wings." Whilst the Seraphs, the figure of 
intensest Love, "move perpetually towards things divine," ardour and energy being 
their characteristics, the characteristic of the Cherubs is receptiveness, their power 
of absorbing the rays of the Supernal Light. (Dionysius the Areopagite, " De Caelesti 
Ierarchia," vi. 2, and vii. 1.) 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 55 

clearly a longing to know, in the deepest, fullest, closest sense, 
the thing adored. Love's characteristic activity — for Love, all 
wings, is inherently active, and " cannot be lazy," as the mystics 
say — is a quest, an outgoing towards an object desired, which 
only when possessed will be fully known, and only when fully 
known can be perfectly adored. 1 Intimate communion, no less 
than worship, is of its essence. Joyous fruition is its proper 
end. This is true of all Love's quests, whether the Beloved be 
human or divine — the bride, the Grail, the Mystic Rose, the 
plenitude of God. But there is no sense in which it can be 
said that the desire of love is merely a department of the desire 
of perfect knowledge : for that strictly intellectual ambition 
includes no adoration, no self-spending, no reciprocity of feeling 
between Knower and Known. Mere knowledge, taken alone, is 
a matter of receiving, not of acting : of eyes, not wings : a dead 
alive business at the best. 

There is thus a sharp distinction to be drawn between these 
two great expressions of life : the energetic love, the passive 
knowledge. One is related to the eager, outgoing activity, the 
dynamic impulse to do somewhat, physical, mental, or spiritual, 
which is inherent in all living things and which psychologists 
call conation; the other to the indwelling consciousness, the 
passive knowing somewhat, which they call cognition. 

To go back to our original diagram, " conation " is almost 
wholly the business of will, but of will stimulated by emotion : 
for wilful action of every kind, however intellectual it may seem, 
is always the result of feeling. We act because we want to ; 
our impulse to " do " is a synthesis of determination and desire. 
All man's achievements are the result of conation, never of mere 
thought. " The intellect by itself moves nothing," said Aristotle, 
and modern psychology has but affirmed this law. Hence his 
quest of Reality is never undertaken, though it may be greatly 
assisted, by the intellectual aspect of his consciousness ; for the 
reasoning powers as such have little initiative. Their province is 
analytic, not exploratory. They stay at home, dissecting and 
arranging matter that comes to hand ; and do not adventure 

1 So Recejac says of the mystics, " They desire to know, only that they may love ; 
and their desire for union with the principles of things in God, Who is the sum of 
them all, is founded on a feeling which is neither curiosity nor self-interest " (" Fonde- 
ments de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 50). 



56 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

beyond their own region in search of food. Thought does not 
penetrate far into an object in which the self feels no interest — 
i.e., towards which she does not experience a " conative " move- 
ment of attraction, of desire — for interest is the only method 
known to us of arousing the will, and securing the fixity of 
attention necessary to any intellectual process. None think for 
long about anything for which they do not care ; that is to 
say, which does not touch some aspect of their emotional life. 
They may hate it, love it, fear it, want it ; but they must have 
some feeling about it. Feeling is the tentacle we stretch out to 
the world of things. 

Here the lesson of psychology is the same as that which 
Dante brought back from his pilgrimage ; the supreme import- 
ance and harmonious movement of il desiro and il velle. Si 
come rota ch! egualmente e mossa, 1 these move together to fulfil the 
Cosmic Plan./In all human life, in so far as it is not merely a 
condition of passive "awareness," the law which he found 
implicit in the universe is the law of the individual mind. 
Not logic, not " common sense," but Vamor che move il sole 
e le altre stelle is the motive force of the spirit of man : in the 
inventors, the philosophers, and the artists, no less than in the 
heroes and in the saints.,, 

The vindication of the importance of feeling in our life, and 
in particular its primacy over reason in all that has to do with 
man's contact with the transcendental world, has been one of 
the chief works of recent psychology. Especially in the sphere 
of religion it has come to be acknowledged that " God known of 
the heart " is a better and more valid statement of ultimate 
experience than " God guessed at by the brain " ; that the active 
adventure of the spirit is more fruitful and more trustworthy 
than the dialectic proof. One by one the commonplaces of 
mysticism are being thus rediscovered by official science, and 
given their proper place in the psychology of the spiritual life. 
The steady growth of vitalistic theories of existence, with their 
tendency to emphasize the purely departmental and utilitarian 
nature of the intellect, and interpret everything in terms of 
vitality, assists this process. / Thus Leuba has not hesitated to 
say that " Life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is 
in the last analysis the end of religion," 2 and we have seen that 

1 Par. xxxiii. 143. 8 The Monist t July, 1901, p. 572. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 57 

life, as we know it, appears to be far more tightly bound up with 
will and feeling than with thought. 

That which our religious and ethical teachers were wont to 
call " mere emotion " is now acknowledged to be of the primal 
stuff of consciousness. Thought is but its servant : a skilled 
and often arrogant servant, with a constant tendency to usurpa- 
tion. At bottom, then, we shall find in emotion the power 
which drives the mental machinery ; a power as strong as 
steam, though as evanescent unless it be put to work. Without 
it, the will would be dormant, and the intellect lapse into a 
calculating machine. As for its transitoriness, incessant change 
has been defined by Bergson as a necessary condition of con- 
sciousness, indeed of life. 1 

Further, ° the heart has its reasons which the mind knows 
not of." It is a matter of experience that in our moments of 
deep emotion, transitory though they be, we plunge deeper into 
the reality of things than we can hope to do in hours of the 
most brilliant argument. At the touch of passion doors fly 
open which logic has battered on in vain : for passion rouses to 
activity not merely the mind, but the whole vitality of man. It 
is the lover, the poet, the mourner, the convert, who shares for 
a moment the mystic's privilege of lifting that Veil of Isis which 
science handles so helplessly, leaving only her dirty finger- 
marks behind. The heart, eager and restless, goes out into 
the unknown, and brings home, literally and actually, "fresh 
food for thought." Hence those who " feel to think " are likely 
to possess a richer, more real, if less orderly, experience than 
those who " think to feel." 

This psychological law, easily proved in regard to earthly 
matters, holds good also upon the supersensual plane. It 
was expressed once for all by one of the earliest of English 
mystics when he said of God, " By love He may be gotten and 
holden, but by thought of understanding never." 3 " The first 
thing which enlightens our eyes," says Ruysbroeck, is the vivid 
emotion which floods and irradiates consciousness when it receives 
a message from the spiritual world. This exalted feeling, this 
desire, not the neat deductions of logic, the apologist's " proofs " 
of the existence of the Absolute, unseals the eyes to things unseen 

1 H. Bergson, " Les Donnees Imm£diates de la Conscience," cap. ii. 
8 " The Cloud of Unknowing," cap. vi. (B. M. Harl. 674). 



58 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

before. He continues, " Of this abrupt emotion is born from the 
side of man the second point: that is to say, a concentration of 
all the interior and exterior forces in the unity of the spirit and 
in the bonds of love." ■ Here we see emotion at its proper 
work, as the spring and stimulant of action ; the movement of 
desire passing over at once into the act of concentration, the 
gathering up of all the powers of the self into a state of deter- 
mined attention, which is the business of the Will. 

Now this act of perfect concentration, the passionate focus- 
ing of the self upon one point, when it is applied in " the unity 
of the spirit and the bonds of love " to real and transcendental 
things, constitutes in the technical language of mysticism the 
state of meditation or recollection : 2 a condition which is 
peculiarly characteristic of the mystical consciousness, and is 
the necessary prelude of pure contemplation, that state in 
which the mystic enters into communion with Reality. 

We have then arrived so far in our description of the 
mechanism of the mystic. Possessed like other men of 
powers of feeling, thought, and will, it is essential that his 
love and his determination, even more than his thought, should 
be set upon Transcendent Reality. He must feel a strong 
emotional attraction toward the supersensual Object of his 
qu<tst: that love which scholastic philosophy defined as the 
force or power which causes every creature to follow out the 
trend of its own nature. Of this must be born the will to 
attain communion with that Absolute Object. This will, this 
burning and active desire, must crystallize into and express 
itself by that definite and conscious concentration of the whole 
self upon the Object, which precedes the contemplative state. 
We see already how far astray are those who look upon the 
mystical temperament as passive in type. 

Our next concern, then, would seem to be with this con- 
dition of contemplation : what it does and whither it leads. 
What is {a) its psychological explanation and (b) its empirical 
value ? Now, in dealing with this, and other rare mental 
conditions, we are of course trying to describe from without 
that which can only adequately be described from within ; 
which is as much as to say that only mystics can really write 

1 "L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. ii. cap. iv. (trans. Maeterlinck). 
3 See below, Pt. II. Cap. VI. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 59 

about mysticism. Fortunately, many mystics have so written ; 
and we, from their experiences and from the explorations of 
psychology upon another plane, are able to make certain ele- 
mentary deductions. It appears generally from these that the 
act of contemplation is for the mystic a psychic gateway ; a 
method of going from one state of consciousness to another. 
In technical language it is the condition under which he shifts 
his " field of perception " and obtains his characteristic outlook 
on the universe. That there is such a characteristic outlook, 
peculiar to no creed or race, is proved by the history of mysti- 
cism ; which demonstrates plainly enough that there is developed 
in some men another sort of consciousness, another "sense," 
beyond those normal qualities of the self which we have 
discussed. This " sense " has attachments at each point to 
emotion, to intellect, and to will. It can express itself under 
each of the aspects which these terms connote. Yet it differs 
from and transcends the emotional, intellectual, and volitional 
life of ordinary men. It was recognized by Plato as that 
consciousness which could apprehend the real world of the 
Ideas. Its development is the final object of that education 
which his " Republic " describes. It is called by Plotinus 
" Another intellect, different from that which reasons and is 
denominated rational." x Its business, he says, is the percep- 
tion of the supersensual — or, in Neoplatonic language, the 
intelligible world. It is the sense which, in the words of the 
"Theologia Germanica," has "the power of seeing into eternity," 2 
the " mysterious eye of the soul " by which St. Augustine saw 
"the light that never changes." 3 It is, says Al Ghazzali, a 
Persian mystic of the eleventh century, "like an immediate 
perception, as if one touched its object with one's hand." 4 In 
the words of his great Christian successor, St. Bernard, " it may 
be defined as the soul's true unerring intuition, the unhesitating 
apprehension of truth " : 5 which " simple vision of truth," says 
St. Thomas Aquinas, " ends in a movement of desire." 6 

It is infused with burning love, for it seems to its possessors 

1 Plotinus, Ennead vi. 9. 

2 "Theologia Germanica," cap. vii. (trans. Winkworth). 

3 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x. 

4 A. Schmolders, " Essai sur les Ecoles Philosophique chez les Arabes," p. 68. 
s "De Consideratione," bk. ii. cap. ii. 

6 " Summa Theologica," ii. ii. q. clxxx. art. 3. eds. I and 3. 



60 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

to be primarily a movement of the heart: with intellectual 
subtlety, for its ardour is wholly spent upon the most sublime 
object of thought : with unflinching will, for its adventures are 
undertaken in the teeth of the natural doubts, prejudices, 
languors, and self-indulgence of man. These adventures, looked 
upon by those who stay at home as a form of the Higher 
Laziness, are in reality the last and most arduous labours 
which humanity is called to perform. They are the only 
known methods by which we can come into conscious posses- 
sion of all our powers ; and, rising from the lower to the higher 
levels of consciousness, become aware of that larger life in 
which we are immersed, attain communion with the transcendent 
Personality in Whom that life is resumed. 

Mary has chosen the better, not the idler part. In vain 
does sardonic common sense, confronted with the contempla- 
tive type, reiterate the sneer of Mucius, "Encore sont-ils heureux 
que la pauvre Marthe leur fasse la cuisine." It remains a para- 
dox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to 
aim is really a state of the most intense activity : more, that 
where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take 
place. In it, the superficial self compels itself to be still, in 
order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power 
which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to 
the highest pitch of efficiency. 

"This restful labouring," said Walter Hilton, "is full far 
from fleshly idleness and from blind security. It is full of 
spiritual working, but it is called rest, for that grace looseth 
the heavy yoke of fleshly love from the soul and maketh it 
mighty and free through the gift of spiritual love for to work 
gladly, softly, and delectably. . . . Therefore it is called an 
holy idleness and a rest most busy, and so it is in regard of 
stillness from the great crying of the beastly noise of fleshly 
desires." x 

If those who have cultivated this latent power be correct in 
their statements, the self was mistaken in supposing herself to 
be entirely shut off from the true external universe. She has 
it seems, certain tentacles which, once she learns to uncurl them 
will stretch sensitive fingers far beyond that limiting envelope 
in which her normal consciousness is contained, and obtain data 
1 Walter Hilton, " The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. x. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 61 

from which she can construct a higher reality than that which 
can be deduced from the reports of the senses. The fully- 
educated and completely conscious human soul can open, then, 
as an anemone does, and know the ocean in which she is bathed. 
This act, this condition of consciousness, in which barriers are 
obliterated, the Absolute flows in on us, and we, rushing out to 
its embrace, "find and feel the Infinite above all reason and 
above all knowledge," l is the true " mystical state." The value 
of contemplation is that it tends to produce this state, and 
turns the " lower servitude " in which the natural man lives 
under the sway of his earthly environment to the " higher 
servitude" of fully conscious dependence on that Reality "in 
Whom we live and move and have our being." 

What then, we ask, is the nature of this special sense — this 
transcendental consciousness — and how does contemplation 
liberate it? 

Any attempt to answer this question brings upon the scene 
another aspect of man's psychic life : an aspect which is of 
paramount importance to the student of the mystic type. We 
have reviewed the chief aspects under which the normal self 
reacts upon experience by means of its surface consciousness : a 
consciousness which has been trained through long ages to deal 
with those concrete matters which make up the universe of 
sense. We know, however, that the personality of man is a far 
deeper and more mysterious thing than the sum of his con- 
scious feeling, thought, and will : that this superficial self — this 
Ego of which each of us is aware — hardly counts in comparison 
with those deeps of being which it hides. " There is a root or 
depth in thee," says Law, " from whence all these faculties come 
forth as lines from a centre, or as branches from the body of a 
tree. This depth is called the centre, the fund, or bottom, of 
the soul. This depth is the unity, the Eternity, I had almost 
said the infinity of thy soul, for it is so infinite that nothing can 
satisfy it, or give it any rest, but the infinity of God." 2 

Since normal man, by means of his feeling, thought, and 
will, is utterly unable to set up relations with spiritual reality, it 
is clearly in this depth of being — in these unplumbed levels of 

* Ruysbroeck, " De Septem Gradibus Amoris," cap. xiv. 

a "The Spirit of Prayer" (" Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law," 
p. 14). 



62 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

personality — that we must search, if we would find the organ, 
the power, by which he is to achieve the mystic quest. That 
alteration of consciousness which takes place in contemplation 
can only mean the emergence from this " fund or bottom of the 
soul " of some faculty which diurnal life keeps hidden " in the 
deeps." 

Modern psychology has summed up man's hiddenness in that -^ 
doctrine of the subconscious or subliminal personality which 
looms so large in recent apologetic literature. It has so dwelt 
upon and defined this vague and shadowy region — which is 
really less a " region " than a useful name — that it sometimes 
seems to know more about the subconscious than about the 
conscious life of man. There it finds, side by side, the sources 
of his most animal instincts, his least explicable powers, his 
most spiritual intuitions : the " ape and tiger," and the " soul." 
Genius and prophecy, table-turning and clairvoyance, hypnotism, 
hysteria, and " Christian " science — all are explained by the 
"subconscious mind." In its pious and apologetic moods, it 
has told us ad nauseam that " God speaks to man in the sub- 
consciousness," l and has succeeded in making the subliminal 
self into the Mesopotamia of Liberal Christianity. The result 
is that popular psychology tends more and more to personify 
and exalt the " subconscious." Forgetting the salutary warning 
administered by a living writer, when he told us that man has 
not only a " Shadowy Companion," but a " Muddy Companion " 
too, 2 it represents the subliminal self as an imprisoned angel, a 
mystic creature possessed of supernatural powers. Stevenson 
was far more scientific when he described the subconscious 
personality of Dr. Jekyll as being Mr. Hyde : for the " subcon- 
sciousness " is simply the aggregate of those powers, parts, or 
qualities of the whole self which at any given moment are not 
conscious, or that the Ego is not conscious of. Included in the 
subconscious region of an average healthy man are all those 
automatic activities by which the life of the body is carried on : 
all those " uncivilized " instincts and vices, those remains of the 
ancestral savage which education has forced out of the stream 
of consciousness ; all those aspirations for which the busy life 

1 Cutten, " Psychological Phenomena of Christianity," p. 18. James, "Varieties 
of Religious Experience," p. 515. Schofield, " The Unconscious Mind," p. 92. 

2 Arthur Machen, " Hieroglyphics," p. 124. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 63 

of the world leaves no place. Hence in normal men the 
best and the worst, the most savage and most spiritual 
parts of the character, are bottled up "below the threshold." 
Often the partisans of the " subconscious " forget to mention 
this. 

It follows, then, that whilst we shall find it convenient and 
indeed necessary to avail ourselves of the symbols and diagrams 
of psychology in tracking out the mystic way, we must not 
forget the large and vague significance which attaches to these 
symbols, or allow ourselves to use the " subconscious " as the 
equivalent of man's transcendental sense. Here the old mystics, 
I think, displayed a more scientific spirit, a more delicate power 
of analysis, than the new psychologists. They, too, were aware 
that in normal men the spiritual sense lies below the threshold 
of consciousness. Though they had not at their command the 
astonishing spatial metaphors of the modern school, and could 
not describe man's ascent toward God in those picturesque 
terms of paths and levels, uprushes, margins, and fields, which 
now come so naturally to investigators of the spiritual life, they 
leave us in no doubt as to their view of the facts. Further, 
man's spiritual history primarily meant for them, as it means 
for us, the emergence of this transcendental sense from its 
prison ; its capture of the field of consciousness, and the 
opening up of those paths which permit the inflow of a 
larger spiritual life, the perception of a higher reality. This, 
in so far as it was an isolated act, was " contemplation." When 
it was part of the general life process, and permanent, they 
called it the New Birth, which " maketh alive." The faculty or 
personality concerned in the "New Birth" — the "spiritual man," 
capable of the spiritual vision and life, which was dissociated 
from the M earthly man " adapted only to the natural life — was 
always distinguished by them very sharply from the total 
personality, conscious or subconscious. It was something 
definite ; a bit or spot of man which, belonging not to Time 
but to Eternity, was different in kind from the rest of his 
human nature, framed in all respects to meet the demands of 
the merely natural world. 

The business of the mystic in the eyes of these old 
specialists was to remake, transmute, his total personality in 
the interest of his spiritual self; to bring it out of the 



64 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

hiddenness, and unify himself about it as a centre, thus 
" putting on divine humanity." 

It is interesting to note that the most recent teaching of 
Rudolph Eucken is in this respect a pure and practical 
mysticism, though his conclusions have not been reached by 
the mystic's road. The " redemptive remaking of personality," 
in conformity with the transcendent or spiritual life of the 
universe, is for him the central necessity of human life. The 
life of reality, he says, is spiritual and heroic: an act, not a 
thought. 1 Further, Eucken, like the mystics, declares that 
there is a definite transcendental principle in man. 2 He calls it 
the Gemilth, the heart or core of personality ; and there, he 
says, " God and man initially meet." He invites us, as we have 
seen,3 to distinguish in man two separate grades of being ; " the 
narrower and the larger life, the life that is straitened and 
finite, and can never transcend itself, and an infinite life through 
which he enjoys communion with the immensity and the truth 
of the universe." 4 At bottom, all the books of the mystics tell 
us no more and no less ; but their practical instructions in the 
art of self-transcendence, by which man may appropriate that 
infinite life, far excel those of the philosopher in lucidity and 
exactness. 

The divine nucleus, the point of contact between man's life 
and the divine life in which it is immersed and sustained, 
has been given many names in course of the development of 
mystical doctrine. All clearly mean the same thing, though 
emphasizing different aspects of its life. Sometimes it is called 
the Synteresis,5 the keeper or preserver of his being: some- 
times the Spark of the Soul, the Fiinklein of the German 
mystics : sometimes its Apex, the point at which it touches the 
heavens. Then, with a sudden flight to the other end of the 
symbolic scale, and in order to emphasize its oneness with pure 
Being, rather than its difference from mere nature, it is called 
the Ground of the Soul, the foundation or basal stuff whence 
springs all spiritual life. 



1 Boyce Gibson, " Rudolph Eucken's Philosophy," p. 17. 
9 Ibid., p. 104. 3 Supra, Cap. II. 

4 Eucken, " Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens ," p. 81. 

s An interesting discussion of the term " Synteresis M will be found in Dr. Inge's 
" Christian Mysticism," Appendix C, pp. 359, 360. 






MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 65 

Clearly all these guesses and suggestions aim at one goal, 
and are to be understood in a purely symbolic sense ; for, as 
Malaval observed in answer to his disciples' anxious inquiries 
on this subject, " since the soul of man is a spiritual thing and 
thus cannot have divisions or parts, consequently it cannot have 
height or depth, summit or surface. But because we judge 
spiritual things by the help of material things, since we know 
these better and they are more familiar to us, we call the 
highest of all forms of conception the summit, and the easier 
way of comprehending things the surface, of the under- 
standing." x 

Here at any rate, whatever name we may choose to give it 
is the organ of man's spiritual consciousness ; the place where 
he meets the Absolute, the germ of his real life. Here is tht 
seat of that deep "Transcendental Feeling," the "beginning 
and end of metaphysics " which is, says Professor Stewart, " at 
once the solemn sense of Timeless Being — of ' That which was 
and is and ever shall be' overshadowing us — and the, con- 
viction that Life is good." " I hold," says the same writer, 
" that it is in Transcendental Feeling, manifested normally as 
Faith in the Value of Life, and ecstatically as sense of Timeless 
Being, and not in Thought proceeding by way of speculative 
construction, that Consciousness comes nearest to the object 
of metaphysics, Ultimate Reality." 2 

The existence of such a " sense," such an integral part or 
function of the complete human being, has been affirmed and 
dwelt upon not only by the mystics, but by seers and teachers 
of all times and creeds : by Egypt, Greece, and India, the 
poets, the fakirs, the philosophers, and the saints. A belief in 
its actuality is the pivot of the Christian position : the founda- 
tion and justification of mysticism, asceticism, the whole 
machinery of the self-renouncing life. That there is an 
extreme point at which man's nature touches the Absolute: 
that his ground, or substance, his true being, is penetrated by 
the Divine Life which constitutes the underlying reality of 

1 " La Pratique de la Vraye Theologie Mystique," vol. i. p. 204. 

3 J. A. Stewart, "The Myths of Plato," pp. 41, 43. Perhaps I may point out that 
this Transcendental Feeling — the ultimate material of poetry — has, like the mystic 
consciousness, a dual perception of Reality : static being and dynamic life. See 
above, p. 42. 
F 



66 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

things ; this is the basis on which the whole mystic claim of 
possible union with God must rest. Here, they say, is our link 
with reality ; and in this place alone can be celebrated the 
" marriage from which the Lord comes." * 

To use another of their diagrams, it is thanks to the exist- 
ence within him of this immortal spark from the central fire, 
that man is implicitly a " child of the infinite." The mystic 
way must therefore be a life, a discipline, which will so alter 
the constituents of his mental life as to include this spark 
within the conscious field, bring it out of the hiddenness, from 
those deep levels where it sustains and guides his normal 
existence, and make it the dominant element round which his 
personality is arranged. The revolution in which this is 
effected begins with the New Birth, which has been described 
under other terms by Rudolph Eucken, as the indispensable 
preliminary of an " independent spiritual life " in man. 2 

Now it is clear that under ordinary conditions, and save for 
sudden gusts of " Transcendental Feeling " induced by some 
saving madness such as Religion, Art, or Love, the superficial 
self knows nothing of the attitude of this silent watcher — this 
" Dweller in the Innermost " — towards the incoming messages 
of the external world : nor of the activities which they awake in 
it. Wholly taken up by the sense-world, and the messages she 
receives from it, she knows nothing of the relations which exist 
between this subject and the unattainable Object of all thought. 
But by a deliberate inattention to the messages of the senses, 
such as that which is induced by contemplation, the mystic 
brings the ground of the soul, the seat of "Transcendental 
Feeling," within the area of consciousness : making it amenable 
to the activity of the will. The contemplative subject, becom- 
ing unaware of his usual and largely fictitious " external world," 
another and more substantial set of perceptions, which never 
have their chance under normal conditions, rise to the surface. 
Sometimes these unite with the normal reasoning faculties. 
More often, they supersede them. Some such exchange, such 
"losing to find," appears to be necessary, if man's transcen- 
dental powers are to have their full chance. 

" The two eyes of the soul of man," says the " Theologia 

1 Tauler, Sermon on St. Augustine ("The Inner Way," p. 162). 

* " Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 146. See also below, Pt. I. Cap. V. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 67 

Germanica " in an apt and vigorous metaphor, " cannot both 
perform their work at once : but if the soul shall see with the 
right eye into eternity, then the left eye must close itself and 
refrain from working, and be as though it were dead. For if 
the left eye be fulfilling its office toward outward things ; that 
is, holding converse with time and the creatures ; then must 
the right eye be hindered in its working ; that is, in its con- 
templation. Therefore whosoever will have the one must let 
the other go ; for ' no man can serve two masters.' " x 

There is within us an immense capacity for perception, for 
the receiving of messages from outside ; and a very little con- 
sciousness which deals with them. It is as if one telegraph 
operator were placed in charge of a multitude of lines: all may 
be in action, but he can only attend to one at a time. In 
popular language, there is not enough consciousness to go 
round. Even upon the sensual plane, no one can be aware of 
more than a few things at once. These fill the centre of our 
field of consciousness : as the object on which we happen to 
have focused our vision dominates our field of sight. The 
other matters within that field retreat to the margin. We know, 
dimly, that they are there ; but we pay them no attention and 
should hardly miss them if they ceased to exist. 

Transcendental matters are, for most of us, always beyond 
the margin ; because most of us have given up our whole con- 
sciousness to the occupation of the senses, and permitted them 
to construct there a universe in which we are contented to 
remain. Only in certain occult and mystic states : in orison, 
contemplation, ecstasy and their allied conditions ; does the 
self contrive to turn out the usual tenants, shut the " gateways 
of the flesh," and let those submerged powers which are capable 
of picking up messages from another plane of being have their 
turn. Then it is the sensual world which retreats beyond the 
margin, and another landscape that rushes in. At last, then, 
we begin to see something of what contemplation does for its 
initiates. It is one of the many names applied to that chain 
of processes which have for their object this alteration of the 
mental equilibrium : the putting to sleep of that " Normal Self" 
which usually wakes, and the awakening of that " Transcen- 

1 " Theologia Germanica," cap. vii. A Kempis has the same metaphor. 
Compare " De Imitatione Christi, " 1. iii. cap. 38. 



68 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

dental Self" which usually sleeps. To man, " meeting-point 
of various stages of reality," is given — though he seldom con- 
siders it — this unique power of choosing his universe. 

The extraordinary phenomenon known as double or disin- j 
tegrated personality may perhaps give us a hint as to the 
mechanical nature of the change which contemplation effects. 
In this psychic malady the total character of the patient is 
split up ; a certain group of qualities are, as] it were, abstracted 
from the surface-consciousness and so closely associated as to 
form in themselves a complete " character " or " personality " — 
necessarily poles asunder from the " character " which the self 
usually shows to the world, since it consists exclusively of those 
elements which are omitted <from it. Thus in the classical 
case of Miss Beauchamp, the investigator, Dr. Morton Prince, 
called the three chief " personalities," from their ruling char- 
acteristics, " the Saint," " the Woman," and " the Devil." * The 
totality of character which composed the "real Miss Beau- 
champ " had split up into these mutually opposing types ; 
each of which was excessive, because withdrawn from the 
control of the rest. When, voluntarily or involuntarily, the 
personality which had possession of the field of consciousness 
was lulled to sleep, one of the others emerged. Hypnotism 
was one of the means which most easily effected this change. 

Now in persons of mystical genius, the qualities which the 
stress of normal life tends to keep below the threshold of con- 
sciousness are of enormous strength. In these natural explorers 
of Eternity the " transcendental faculty," the " eye of the soul," 
is not merely present in embryo, but is highly developed ; and 
is combined with great emotional and volitional power. The 
result of the segregation of such qualities below the threshold 
of consciousness is to remove from them the friction of those 
counterbalancing traits in the surface mind with which they 
might collide. They are " in the hiddenness," as Jacob Boehme 
would say. There they develop unchecked, until a point is 
reached at which their strength is such that they break their 
bounds and emerge into the conscious field : either temporarily 
dominating the subject as in ecstasy, or permanently trans- 
muting the old self, as in the " unitive life." The attainment of 
this point is accelerated by such processes as those of contem- 

1 Morton Prince, " The Dissociation of a Personality," p. 16. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 



(S 



plation. These processes — not themselves mystical, but merely 
the mechanical conditions of mystical experience — are classed 
by psychologists with the states of dream and reverie, and the 
conditions loosely called hypnotic. In them the normal surface 
consciousness is deliberately or involuntarily lulled, and images or 
faculties from "beyond the threshold " are able to take its place. 
Of course these images or faculties may or may not be more 
valuable than those already present in the surface-conscious- 
ness. In the ordinary subject, often enough, they are but the 
odds and ends for which the superficial mind has found no 
use. In the mystic, they are of a very different order : and 
this fact justifies the means which he instinctively employs 
to secure their emergence. Indian mysticism founds its 
external system almost wholly on (a) Ascetism, the domina- 
tion of the senses, and (b) the deliberate practice of self- 
hypnotization ; either by fixing the eyes on a near object, or 
by the rhythmic repetition of the mantra or sacred word. By 
these complementary forms of discipline, the pull of the 
phenomenal world is diminished and the mind is placed at the 
disposal of the subconscious powers. Dancing, music, and 
other exaggerations of natural rhythm have been pressed into 
the same service by the Greek initiates of Dionysus, by the 
Gnostics, by innumerable other mystic cults. That these pro- 
ceedings do effect a remarkable change in the human conscious- 
ness is proved by experience : though how and why they do it 
is as yet little understood. Such artificial and deliberate pro- 
duction of ecstasy is against the whole instinct of the Christian 
contemplatives ; but here and there amongst them also we find 
instances in which ecstatic trance or lucid ty, the liberation of 
the " transcendental sense," was inadvertently produced by 
purely physical means. Thus Jacob Boehme, the " Teutonic 
theosopher," having one day as he sat in his room "gazed 
fixedly upon a burnished pewter dish which reflected the 
sunshine with great brilliance," fell into an inward ecstasy, and 
it seemed to him as if he could look into the principles and 
deepest foundations of things. 1 The contemplation of running 
water had the same effect on St. Ignatius Loyola. Sitting on 
the bank of a river one day, and facing the stream, which was 
running deep, " the eyes of his mind were opened, not so as to 
1 Martensen, "Jacob Boehme," p. 7. 



70 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

see any kind of vision, but so as to understand and comprehend 
spiritual things . . . and this with such clearness that for him 
all these things were made new." 1 This method of attain- 
ing to mental lucidity by a narrowing and simplification of 
the conscious field, finds an apt parallel in the practice of Em- 
manuel Kant, who " found that he could better engage in 
philosophical thought while gazing steadily at a neighbouring 
church steeple." 2 

It need hardly be said that rationalistic writers, ignoring the 
parallels offered by the artistic and philosophic temperaments, 
have seized eagerly upon the evidence afforded by such 
instances of apparent mono-ideism and self-hypnotization in the 
lives of the mystics, and by the physical disturbances which 
accompany the ecstatic trance, and sought by its application to 
attribute all the abnormal perceptions of contemplative genius 
to hysteria or other disease. They have not hesitated to call 
St. Paul an epileptic, St. Teresa the "patron saint of 
hysterics " ; and have found room for most of their spiritual 
kindred in various departments of the pathological museum. 
They have been helped in this grateful task by the acknow- 
ledged fact that the great contemplatives, though almost always 
persons of robust intelligence and marked practical or intellec- 
tual ability — Plotinus, St. Bernard, the two S.S. Catherine, 
St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, and the Sufi poets Jami' and 
Jelalu 'd Din are cases in point — have often suffered from bad 
physical health. More, their mystical activities have generally 
reacted upon their bodies in a definite and special way ; 
producing in several cases a particular kind of illness and of 
physical disability, accompanied by pains and functional dis- 
turbances for which no organic cause could be discovered, unless 
that cause were the immense strain which exalted spirit puts 
upon a body which is adapted to a very different form 
of life. 

It is certain that the abnormal and highly sensitized type of 
mind which we call mystical does frequently, but not always, pro- 
duce or accompany strange and inexplicable modifications of the 
physical organism with which it is linked. The supernatural is 
not here in question, except in so far as we are inclined to give 

1 Testament, cap. iii. 

2 Starbuck, " The Psychology of Religion," p. 388. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 71 

that name to natural phenomena which we do not understand. 
Such instances of psycho-physical parallelism as the stigmatiza- 
tions of the saints — and indeed of other suggestible subjects 
hardly to be ranked as saints — will occur to anyone. 1 I here 
offer to the reader another less discussed and more extraordinary 
example of the modifying influence of the spirit on the supposed 
" laws " of bodily life. 

We know, as a historical fact, unusually well attested by 
contemporary evidence and quite outside the sphere of hagio- 
graphic romance, that both St. Catherine of Siena and her 
namesake St. Catherine of Genoa — active women as well as 
ecstatics, the first a philanthropist, reformer, and politician, 
the second an original theologian and for many years the highly 
efficient matron of a large hospital — lived, in the first case for 
years, in the second for constantly repeated periods of many 
weeks, without other food than the consecrated Host which they 
received at Holy Communion. They did this, not by way of 
difficult obedience to a pious vow, but because they could not 
live in any other way. Whilst fasting, they were well and 
active, capable of dealing with the innumerable responsibilities 
which filled their lives. But the attempt to eat even a few 
mouthfuls — and this attempt was constantly repeated, for, like 
all true saints, they detested eccentricity 2 — at once made them 
ill and had to be abandoned as useless.3 

In spite of the researches of Murisier,4 Janet,5 Ribot, 6 and 
other psychologists, and their persevering attempts to find a 
pathological explanation which will fit all mystic facts, this and 
other marked physical peculiarities which accompany the mys- 
tical temperament belong as yet to the unsolved problems of 
humanity. They need to be removed both from the sphere of 
marvel and from that of disease — into which enthusiastic friends 

1 See, for instances, Cutten, "The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity," 
cap. viii. 

2 "Singularity," says Gertrude More, "is a vice which Thou extreamly hatest " 
(" The Spiritual Exercises of the most vertuous and religious Dame Gertrude More," 
p. 40). All the best and sanest of the mystics are of the same opinion. 

3 See E. Gardner, " St. Catherine of Siena," pp. 12 and 48 ; and F. von Hiigel, 
" The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. i. p. 135. 

4 " Les Maladies des Sentiments Religieux." 

s " L'Etat Mentale des Hysteriques," and " Une Extatique" {Bulletin de 
Vlnstitut Psychologique, 1901). 

6 " La Psychologie des Sentiments," 1896. 



72 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and foes force them by turn — to the sphere of pure psychology ; 
and there studied dispassionately with the attention which we 
so willingly bestow on the less interesting eccentricities of de- 
generacy and vice. Their existence no more discredits the 
sanity of mysticism or the validity of its results than the 
unstable nervous condition usually noticed in artists — who 
share to some extent the mystic's apprehension, of the Real — 
discredits art. " In such cases as Kant and Beethoven," says 
Von Hiigel justly, " a classifier of humanity according to its 
psycho-physical phenomena alone would put these great dis- 
coverers and creators, without hesitation, amongst hopeless and 
useless hypochondriacs." ■ 

In the case of the mystics the disease of hysteria, with its 
astounding variety of mental symptoms, its strange power of 
disintegrating, rearranging and enhancing the elements of 
consciousness, its tendencies to automatism and ecstasy, has 
been most often invoked to provide an explanation of the 
observed phenomena. This is as if one sought the source of 
the genius of Taglioni in the symptoms of St. Vitus's dance. 
Both the art and the disease have to do with bodily movements. 
So too both mysticism and hysteria have to do with the 
domination of consciousness by one fixed and intense idea or 
intuition, which rules the life and is able to produce amazing 
physical and psychical results. In the hysteric patient this 
idea is often trivial or morbid 2 but has become — thanks to the 
self s unstable mental condition — an obsession. In the mystic y 
the dominant idea is a great one : so great in fact that when it 
is received in its completeness by the human consciousness, 
almost of necessity it ousts all else. It is nothing less than the 
idea or perception of the transcendent reality and presence of 
God. Hence the mono-ideism of the mystic is rational, whilst 
that of the hysteric patient is invariably irrational. 

On the whole then, whilst psycho-physical relations remain 
so little understood, it would seem more prudent, and certainly 
more scientific, to withhold our judgment on the meaning of 
the psycho-physical phenomena which accompany the mystic 
life ; instead of basing destructive criticism on facts which are 
avowedly mysterious and at least capable of more than one 

1 Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 42. 

2 For examples consult Pierre Janet, op. cit. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 73 

interpretation. To deduce the nature of a compound from the 
character of its by-products is notoriously unsafe. 

Our bodies are animal things, made for animal activities. 
When a spirit of unusual ardour insists on using its nerve- 
cells for other activities, they kick against the pricks, and 
inflict, as the mystics themselves acknowledge, the penalty of 
" mystical ill-health." " Believe me, children," says Tauler, 
" one who would know much about these high matters would 
often have to keep his bed, for his bodily frame could not 
support it." x "I cause thee extreme pain of body," says the 
voice of Love to Mechthild of Magdeburg. "If I gave myself 
to thee as often as thou wouldst have me, I should deprive 
myself of the sweet shelter I have of thee in this world, for 
a thousand bodies could not protect a loving soul from her 
desire. Therefore the higher the love the greater the pain." 2 

On the other hand the exalted personality of the mystic — 
his self-discipline, his heroic acceptance of labour and suffering, 
and his inflexible will — raises to a higher term that normal 
power of mind over body which all possess. Also the con- 
templative state — like the hypnotic state in a healthy person 
— seems to enhance life by throwing open deeper levels of 
personality. The self then drinks at a fountain which is fed 
by the Universal Life : the " life of the Spirit," to use the 
language of Eucken's philosophy. True ecstasy is notoriously 
life-enhancing. In it a bracing contact vvith Reality seems 
to take place, and as a result the subject is himself more real 
Often, says St. Teresa, even the sick come forth from ecstasy 
healthy and with new strength ; for something great is then 
given to the soul.3 Contact has been set up with levels of 
being which the daily routine of existence leaves untouched. 
Hence the extraordinary powers of endurance and independence 
of external conditions which the great ecstatics so often display. 

If we see in the mystics, as some have done, the sporadic 
beginning of a power, a higher consciousness, towards which 
the race slowly tends ; then it seems likely enough that where 
it appears nerves and organs should suffer under a stress to 
which they have not yet become adapted, and that a spirit 

1 Sermon for First Sunday after Easter (Winkworth, p. 302). 

2 " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. ii. cap. xxv. 

3 Vida, cap. xx. § 29. (Here and throughout I use Lewis's translation.) 



74 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

more highly organized than its bodily home should be able 
to impose strange conditions on the flesh. When man first 
stood upright, a body long accustomed to go on all fours, legs 
which had adjusted themselves to bearing but half his weight, 
must have rebelled against this unnatural proceeding ; inflicting 
upon its author much pain and discomfort if not absolute illness. 
It is at least permissible to look upon the strange "psycho- 
physical" state common amongst the mystics as just such a 
rebellion on the part of a normal nervous and vascular system 
against the exigencies of a way of life to which it has not yet 
adjusted itself. 1 

In spite of such rebellion, and of the tortures to which it has 
subjected them, the mystics, oddly enough, are a long-lived 
race : an awkward fact for critics of the physiological school. 
To take only a few instances from amongst marked ecstatics, 
St. Hildegarde liveji to be eighty-one, Mechthild of Magdeburg 
to eighty-seven, Ruysbroeck to eighty-eight, Suso to seventy, 
St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Peter of Alcantara to sixty- 
three, Madame Guyon to sixty-nine. It seems as though that 
enhanced life which is the reward of mystical surrender enabled 
them to triumph over their bodily disabilities : and to live and 
do the work demanded of them under conditions which would 
have incapacitated ordinary men. 

Such triumphs, which take heroic rank in the history of the 
human mind, have been accomplished as a rule in the same 
way. Like all intuitive persons, all possessors of genius, all 
potential artists — with whom in fact they are closely related — 
the mystics have, in psychological language, "thresholds of 
exceptional mobility." That is to say, a very slight effort, a 
very slight departure from normal conditions, will permit their 
latent or " subliminal " powers to emerge and occupy the mental 
field. A " mobile threshold " may make a man a genius, a 
lunatic, or a saint. All depends upon the character of the 
emerging powers. In the great mystic, these powers, these 
mighty tracts of personality lying below the level of normal 

1 Mr. Boyce Gibson has lately drawn a striking parallel between the ferment and 
"interior uproar" of adolescence and the profound disturbances which mark man's 
entry into a conscious spiritual life. His remarks are even more applicable to the 
drastic rearrangement of personality which takes place in the case of the mystic, 
whose spiritual life is more intense than that of other men. See Boyce Gibson, 
"God with Us," 1909, cap. iii. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 75 

consciousness, are of unusual richness ; and cannot be 
accounted for in terms of pathology. "If it be true," says 
Delacroix, <: that the great mystics have not wholly escaped 
those nervous blemishes which mark nearly all exceptional 
organizations, there is in them a vital and creative power, 
a constructive logic, an extended scale of realization — in a 
word a genius — which is, in truth, their essential quality. . . . 
The great mystics, creators and inventors who have found a 
new form of life and have justified it . . . join, upon the 
highest summits of the human spirit, the great simplifiers 
of the world." * 

The truth, then, so far as we know it at present, seems to be 
that those powers which are in contact with the Transcendental 
Order, and which constitute at the lowest estimate half the self, 
are dormant in ordinary men, whose time and interest are 
wholly occupied in responding to the stimuli of the world of 
sense. With those latent powers sleeps the landscape which 
they alone can apprehend. In mystics none of the self is 
always dormant. They have roused the Dweller in the Inner- 
most from its slumbers, and round it have unified their life. 
Heart, Reason, Will are there in full action, drawing their 
energy not from the shadow-show of sense, but from the deeps 
of true Being ; where a lamp is lit, and a consciousness awake, 
of which the sleepy crowd remains oblivious. He who says the 
mystic is but half a man, states the exact opposite of the truth. 
Only the mystic can be called a whole man, since in others half 
the powers of the self always sleep. This wholeness of expe- 
rience is much insisted on by the mystics. Thus the Divine 
Voice says to St. Catherine of Siena, " I have also shown thee 
the Bridge and the three general steps, placed there for the 
three powers of the soul, and I have told thee how no one can 
attain to the life of grace unless he has mounted all three steps, 
that is, gathered together all the three powers of the soul in My 
Name." 2 

In those abnormal types of personality to which we give the 
name of genius, we seem to detect a hint of the relations which 
may exist between these deep levels of being and the crust of 
consciousness. In the poet, the musician, the great mathe- 
matician or inventor, mighty powers lying below the threshold, 

1 Delacroix, " Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. ill. a Dialogo, cap. lxxxvi. 



76 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

hardly controllable by their owner's conscious will, clearly take 
a major part in the business of perception and conception. In 
all creative acts, the larger share of the work is done subcon- 
sciously : its emergence is in a sense automatic. This is equally 
true of mystics, artists, philosophers, discoverers, and rulers of 
men. The great religion, invention, work of art, always owes its 
inception to some sudden uprush of intuitions or ideas for which 
the superficial self cannot account ; its execution to powers so far 
beyond the control of that self, that they seem, as their owner 
sometimes says, to " come from beyond." This is " inspiration," 
the opening of the sluices, so that those waters of truth in 
which all life is bathed may rise to the level of consciousness. 

The great teacher, poet, artist, inventor, never aims delibe- 
rately at his effects. He obtains them he knows not how : 
perhaps from a contact of which he is unconscious with that 
creative plane of being which the Sufis call the Constructive 
Spirit, and the Kabalists Yesod, and which both postulate as 
lying next behind the world of sense. " Sometimes," said the 
great Alexandrian Jew Philo, " when I have come to my work 
empty, I have suddenly become full ; ideas being in an invisible 
manner showered upon me, and implanted in me from on high; 
so that through the influence of divine inspiration, I have 
become greatly excited, and have known neither the place in 
which I was, nor those who were present, nor myself, nor what 
I was saying, nor what I was writing ; for then I have been 
conscious of a richness of interpretation, an enjoyment of light, 
a most penetrating insight, a most manifest energy in all that 
was to be done ; having such an effect on my mind as the 
clearest ocular demonstration would have on the eyes." x This 
is a true creative ecstasy, strictly parallel to the state in which 
the mystic performs his mighty works. 

To let oneself go, be quiet, receptive, is the condition under 
which such contact with the Cosmic Life may be obtained. 
" I have noticed that when one paints one should think of 
nothing: everything then comes better," says the young 
Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci. 2 The superficial self must 
here acknowledge its own insufficiency, must become the 

1 Quoted by James ("Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 481) from Clissold's 
'•' The Prophetic Spirit in Genius and Madness," p. 67. 

2 Merejkowsky, " Le Roman de Leonard de Vinci," p. 638. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 77 

humble servant of a more profound and vital consciousness. 
The mystics are of the same opinion. " I tried," says Madame 
Guyon, speaking of her early failures in contemplation, "to 
obtain by effort that which I could only obtain by ceasing all 
effort." z " The best and noblest way in which thou mayst 
come into this Life," says Eckhart, " is by keeping silence and 
letting God work and speak. Where all the powers are with- 
drawn from their work and images there is this word spoken 
. . . the more thou canst draw in all thy powers and forget the 
creature the nearer art thou to this, and the more receptive." 2 

Thus Boehme says to the neophyte,3 " When both thy intel- 
lect and will are quiet and passive to the expressions of the 
eternal Word and Spirit, and when thy soul is winged up above 
that which is temporal, the outward senses and the imagination 
being locked up by holy abstraction, then the eternal Hearing, 
Seeing, and Speaking will be revealed in thee. Blessed art 
thou therefore if thou canst stand still from self thinking and 
self willing, and canst stop the wheel of thy imagination and 
senses." Then, the conscious mind being passive, the more 
divine mind below the threshold — organ of our free creative 
life — can emerge and present its reports. In the words of an 
older mystic, " The soul, leaving all things and forgetting her- 
self, is immersed in the ocean of Divine Splendour, and illumi- 
nated by the Sublime Abyss of the Unfathomable Wisdom." 4 

The " passivity " of contemplation, then, is a necessary pre- 
liminary of spiritual energy: an essential clearing of the ground. 
It withdraws the tide of consciousness from the shores of sense,, 
stops the " wheel of the imagination." " The soul," says Eckhart 
again, " is created in a place between Time and Eternity : with 
its highest powers it touches Eternity, with its lower Time." s 
These, the worlds of Being and Becoming, are the two " stages 
of reality " which meet in the spirit of man. By cutting us off 
from the temporal plane, the lower kind of reality, Contempla- 
tion gives the eternal plane, and the powers which can commu- 

x Vie (ed. Poiret, 1720), t. ii. p. 74. 

2 Meister Eckhart, Pred. i. (" Mystische Schriften," p. 18). 

3 "Three Dialogues of the Supersensual Life," p. 14. 

4 Dionysius the Areopagite, " De Divinis Nominibus," vii. 3. 

5 Pred. xxiii. Eckhart obtained this image from St. Thomas Aquinas, " Summa 
Contra Gentiles," 1. iii. cap. lxi. " The intellectual soul is created on the confines 
of eternity and time." 



78 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

nicate with that plane, their chance. In the born mystic these 
powers are great, and lie very near the normal threshold of 
consciousness. He has a genius for transcendental — or as he 
would say, divine — discovery in exactly the same way as his 
cousins, the born musician and poet, have a genius for musical or 
poetic discovery. In all three cases, the emergence of these 
higher powers is mysterious, and not least so to those who 
experience it. Psychology on the one hand, theology on the 
other, may offer us diagrams and theories of this proceeding : 
of the strange oscillations of the developing consciousness, the 
fitful visitations of a lucidity and creative power over which the 
self has little or no control ; the raptures and griefs of a vision 
by turns granted and withdrawn. But the secret of genius 
still eludes us, as the secret of life eludes the biologist. 

The utmost we can say of such persons is, that reality pre- 
sents itself to them under abnormal conditions and in abnormal 
terms, and that subject to these conditions and in these terms 
they are bound to deal with it. Thanks to their peculiar mental 
make up, one aspect of the universe is for them focused so 
sharply that in comparison with it all other images are blurred, 
vague, and unreal. Hence the sacrifice which men of genius — 
mystics, artists, inventors — make of their whole lives to this one 
Object, this one vision of truth, is not self-denial, but rather 
self-fulfilment. They gather themselves up from the unreal, in 
order to concentrate on the real. The whole personality then 
absorbs or enters into communion with certain rhythms or 
harmonies existent in the universe, which the receiving appa- 
ratus of other selves cannot take up. " Here is the finger of 
God, a flash of the Will that can ! " exclaims Abt Vogler, as 
the sounds grow under his hand. " The numbers come ! " says 
the poet. He knows not how ; certainly not by deliberate 
intellectation. 

So it is with the mystic. Madame Guyon states in her 
autobiography, that when she was composing her works she 
would experience a sudden and irresistible inclination to take 
up her pen ; though feeling wholly incapable of literary compo- 
sition, and not even knowing the subject on which she would be 
impelled to write. If she resisted this impulse it was at the 
cost of the most intense discomfort. She would then begin to 
write with extraordinary swiftness ; words, elaborate arguments, 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 79 

and appropriate quotations coming to her without reflec- 
tion, and so quickly that one of her longest books was written 
in one and a half days. 1 

" In writing I saw that I was writing of things which I had 
never seen : and during the time of this manifestation, I was 
given light to perceive that I had in me treasures of knowledge 
and understanding which I did not know that I possessed." 2 

Similar statements are made of St. Teresa, who declared 
that in writing her books she was powerless to set down any- 
thing but that which her Master put into her mind.3 So Blake 
said of " Milton " and " Jerusalem," " I have written the poems 
from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty 
lines at a time, without premeditation and even against my will. 
The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, 
and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a 
long life, all produced without labour or study." 4 

These are, of course, extreme forms of that strange power of 
automatic composition, in which words and characters arrive 
and arrange themselves in defiance of their authors' will, of 
which most poets and novelists possess a trace. Such composi- 
tion is related to the " automatic writing " of " mediums " and 
other sensitives; in which the often disorderly and incoherent 
subliminal mind seizes upon this channel of expression. The 
subliminal mind of the great mystic, however, is not disorderly. 
It is richly endowed and keenly observant — a treasure house, 
not a lumber room — and becomes, in the course of its education, 
a highly disciplined and skilled instrument of knowledge. 
When, therefore, its contents emerge, and are presented to the 
normal consciousness in the form of lucidity, " auditions," 
visions, automatic writing, or any other translations of the 
supersensual into the terms of sensual perception, they cannot 
be discredited because the worthless subconscious field of 
feebler natures sometimes manifests itself in the same way. 
Idiots are often voluble : but many orators are sane. 

Now, to sum up : what are the chief characteristics which 
we have found in this sketch-map of the mental life of man ? 

(i) We have divided that life, arbitrarily enough, along thp 

1 Vie, t. ii. pp. 120, 229. 2 Op. cit., p. 223. 

3 G. Cunninghame Graham, " Santa Teresa," vol. i. p. 202. 
* "Letters of William Blake," April 25, 1803. 



80 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

fluctuating line which psychologists call the " threshold of his 
consciousness " into the surface life and the subconscious deeps. 

(2) In the surface life, though we recognized its essential 
wholeness, we distinguished three outstanding and ever-present 
aspects : the Trinity in Unity of feeling, thought, and will. 
Amongst these, we were obliged to give the primacy to feeling, 
as the power which set the machinery of thought and will to 
work. 

(3) We have seen that the expression of this life takes the 
two complementary forms of conation, or outgoing action, and 
cognition, or indwelling knowledge ; and that the first, which is 
dynamic in type, is largely dependent on the will stimulated by 
the emotions ; whilst the second, which is passive in type, is 
the business of the intellect. They answer to the two main 
aspects which man discerns in the universal life : Being and 
Becoming. 

(4) Neither conation nor cognition — action nor thought — as 
performed by this surface mind, concerned as it is with natural 
existence and dominated by spatial conceptions, is able to set 
up any relations with the Absolute or Transcendental world. 
Such action and thought deal wholly with material supplied 
directly or indirectly by the world of sense. The testimony of 
the mystics, however, and of all persons possessing an " instinct 
for the Absolute," points to the existence of a further faculty in 
man ; an intuitive power which the circumstances of diurnal life 
tend to keep " below the threshold " of his consciousness, and 
which thus becomes one of the factors of his " subliminal life." 
This latent faculty is the primary agent of mysticism, and lives 
a "substantial" life in touch with the real or transcendental 
world. 

(5) Certain processes, of which contemplation has been 
taken as a type, so alter the state of consciousness as to permit 
the emergence of this faculty; which, according as it enters 
more or less into the conscious life, makes man more or less a 
mystic. 

The mystic life, therefore, involves the emergence from deep 
levels of man's transcendental self ; its capture of the field of 
consciousness ; and the " conversion " or rearrangement of his 
feeling, thought, and will — his character — about this new centre 
of life. 



MYSTICISM AND PSYCHOLOGY 81 

We state, then, as the conclusion of this chapter, that the 
object of the mystic's adventure, seen from within, is the 
apprehension of, or direct communion with, that transcendental 
reality which we tried in the last section to define from 
without. 

Here, as in the fulfilment of the highest earthly love, know- 
ledge and communion are the same thing ; we must be " oned 
with bliss" if we are to be aware of it. The main agent by 
which we may attain this communion resides in that part of the 
self which usually lies below the threshold of our conscious- 
ness. Thence, in certain natures of abnormal richness and 
vitality, and under certain favourable conditions, it may be 
liberated by various devices, such as contemplation. Once it 
has emerged, however, it takes up, to help it in the work, aspects 
of the conscious self. The surface must co-operate with the 
deeps, and at last merge with those deeps to produce 
that unification of consciousness upon high levels which 
alone can put a term to man's unrest. The heart that 
longs for the All, the mind that conceives it, the will that 
concentrates the whole self upon it, must all be called into play. 
The self must be surrendered : but it must not be annihilated, 
as some Quietists have supposed. It only dies that it may live 
again. Supreme success, says the Lady Julian, in a passage 
which anticipates the classification of modern psychology, the 
permanent assurance of the mystic that " we are more verily in 
heaven than in earth," " cometh of the natural Love of our 
soul, and of the clear light of our Reason, and of the steadfast 
Mind." * 

But what is the order of precedence which these three 
activities are to assume in the work which is one ? All, as we 
have seen, must do their part ; for the business is nothing less 
than the movement of man in his wholeness to high levels. But 
which shall predominate ? On the answer which each gives to 
this question the ultimate nature of the self, and the nature of 
that self s experience of reality, will depend. The question for 
her is really this ; under which aspect of consciousness can she 
creep most closely to the Thought of God; the real life in which 
she is bathed ? Which, fostered and made dominant, is most 
likely to put her in harmony with the Absolute ? The Love of 

1 Tulian of Norwich, " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lv. 
G 



82 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

God, which is ever in the hearts and often on the lips of 
Saints, is the passionate desire for this harmony ; the " malady 
of thought" is its intellectual equivalent. Though we may 
seem to escape God, we cannot escape this craving ; except at 
the price of utter stagnation. We go back, therefore, to the 
statement with which this chapter opened : that of the two 
governing desires which share the prison of the self. We see 
them now as representing the cravings of the intellect and the 
emotions for the only end of all quests. The disciplined will — 
that " conative power " — with all the dormant faculties which it 
can wake and utilize, can come to the assistance of one of 
them. Which ? The question is a crucial one ; for the destiny 
of the self depends on the partner which the will selects. 



CHAPTER IV 
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 

Mysticism and Magic — Distinction between them — The Way of Love and the Way 
of Knowledge — Characteristics of Mysticism — Difficulty of fixing them — The Mystic 
has obtained contact with the Absolute — He is a spiritual genius— All men have 
latent mystical feeling — Such feeling is the source of the arts — Mystic and Artist — 
Their likenesses and differences — Difficulties of mystical expression — Mysticism and 
music — Richard Rolle — Symbolic expression — Vision — An accident not an implicit or 
mysticism — A method of communication — Suggestive power of symbols — Four 
characteristics of true mysticism — It is (i) practical, (2) transcendental, (3) the mystic 
is a lover, (4) his object is union with the Absolute — Mysticism defined — First 
characteristic illustrated — St. John of the Cross — Theologia Germanica — Second 
characteristic illustrated — Tauler — Plotinus — Third characteristic illustrated — Mystic 
love — Rolle — A Kempis — Gertrude More — Fourth characteristic illustrated — 
Mechthild of Magdeburg — The Mystic Way — Unity of the mystical experience — 
A fifth characteristic : disinterestedness — Self-surrender — Pure love — Summary 

EVER since the world began, man has had two distinct 
and fundamental attitudes towards the unseen ; and 
through them has developed two methods of getting in 
touch with it. For the purpose of our present inquiry, I propose 
to call these methods the " way of magic " and the ■ way of 
mysticism." Having said so much, one must at once add that 
although in their extreme forms these arts are sharply con- 
trasted with one another, their frontiers are far from being 
clearly defined : that, starting from the same point, they often 
confuse the inquirer by using the same language, instruments, 
and methods. Hence it is that so much which is really magic 
is loosely and popularly described as mysticism. They repre- 
sent as a matter of fact the opposite poles of the same thing : 
the transcendental consciousness of humanity. Between them 
lie the great religions, which might be described under this 
metaphor as representing the ordinarily habitable regions of 
that consciousness. Hence, at one end of the scale, pure 



84 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

mysticism "shades off" into religion — from some points of view 
seems to grow out of it. No deeply religious man is without a 
touch of mysticism ; and no mystic can be other than religious, 
in the psychological if not in the theological sense of the word. 
At the other end of the scale, as we shall see later on, religion, 
no less surely, shades off into magic. 

The fundamental difference between the two is this : magic 
wants to get, mysticism wants to give — immortal and antago- 
nistic attitudes, which turn up under one disguise or another in 
every age of thought. Both magic and mysticism in their full 
development bring the whole mental machinery, conscious and, 
subconscious, to bear on their undertaking : both claim that 
they produce in their initiates powers unknown to ordinary 
men. But the centre round which that machinery is grouped, 
the reasons of that undertaking, and the ends to which those 
powers are applied differ enormously. In mysticism the will is 
united with the embtions in an impassioned desire to transcend 
the sense-world in order that the self may be joined by love to 
the one eternal and ultimate Object of love ; whose existence is 
intuitively perceived by that which we used to call the soul, but 
now find it easier to refer to as the " Cosmic " or " transcendental " 
sense. This is the poetic and religious temperament acting upon 
the plane of reality. In magic, the will unites with the intellect 
in an impassioned desire for supersensible knowledge. This is 
the intellectual, aggressive, and scientific temperament trying to 
extend its field of consciousness, until it includes the super- 
sensual world : obviously the antithesis of mysticism, though 
often adopting its title and style. 

It will be our business later on to consider in more detail 
the characteristics and significance of magic. Now it is enough 
to say that we may class broadly as magical all forms of self- 
seeking transcendentalism, w It matters little whether the appa- 
ratus which they use be the incantations of the old magicians, 
the congregational prayer for rain of orthodox Churchmen, or 
the consciously self-hypnotizing devices of " New Thought " : 
whether the end proposed be the evocation of an angel, the 
power of transcending circumstance, or the healing of disease. 
The object of the thing is always the same : the deliberate 
exaltation of the will, till it transcends its usual limitations 
and obtains for the self or group of selves something which it 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 85 

or they did not previously possess. It is an individualistic and 
acquisitive science : in all its forms an activity of the intellect, 
seeking Reality for its own purposes, or for those of humanity 
at large. 

Mysticism, whose great name is too often given to these 
supersensual activities, is utterly different from this. It is 
non-individualistic. It implies, indeed, the abolition of in- 
dividuality ; of that hard separateness, that " I, Me, Mine." 
which makes of man a finite isolated thing. It is essentially 
a movement of the heart, seeking to transcend the limitations 
of the individual standpoint and to surrender itself to ultimate 
Reality ; for no personal gain, to satisfy no transcendental 
curiosity, to obtain no other-worldly joys, but purely from an 
instinct of love. By the word heart, of course we here mean not 
merely " the seat of the affections," " the organ of tender emotion," 
and the like : but rather the inmost sanctuary of personal being, 
the synthesis of its love and will, the very source of its energy 
and life. The mystic is " in love with the Absolute " not in any 
idle or sentimental manner, but in that deep and vital sense which 
presses forward at all costs and through all dangers towards 
union with the object beloved. Hence, where the practice of 
magic — like the practice of science — does not necessarily entail 
any passionate emotion, though of course it does and must 
entail interest of some kind, mysticism, like art, cannot exist 
without it. We must feel, and feel acutely, before we want to 
act on this hard and heroic scale. 

We at once see that these two activities correspond to the 
two eternal passions of the self, the desire of love and the 
desire of knowledge : severally representing the hunger of 
heart and intellect for ultimate truth. 

The third attitude towards the supersensual world, that of 
transcendental philosophy, hardly comes within the scope 
of the present inquiry ; since it is purely academic where both 
magic and mysticism are practical, and in their methods strictly 
empirical. Such philosophy is often wrongly called mysticism 
because it tries to make maps of the countries which the mystic 
explores. Its performances are useful, as diagrams are useful, 
so long as they do not ape finality ; remembering that the only 
final thing is personal experience — the personal exploration of 
the exalted and truth-loving soul. 



86 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

What then do we really mean by mysticism? A word 
which is impartially applied to the performances of mediums 
and the ecstasies of the saints, to " menticulture " and sorcery, 
dreamy poetry and mediaeval art, to prayer and palmistry, the 
doctrinal excesses of Gnosticism, and the tepid speculations of 
the Cambridge Platonists — even, according to William James, 
to the higher branches of intoxication * — soon ceases to have 
any useful meaning. Its employment merely confuses the 
inexperienced student, who usually emerges from his struggle 
with the ever-increasing mass of theosophical and psychical 
literature possessed by a vague idea that every kind of super- 
sensual theory and practice is somehow "mystical." Hence 
it is necessary, if possible, to fix its true characteristics: to 
restate the fact that Mysticism, in its pure form, is the science 
of ultimates, the science of union with the Absolute, and 
nothing else, and that the mystic is the person who attains to 
this union, not the person who talks about it. Not to know 
about, but to Be, is the mark of the real practitioner. 

The difficulty lies in determining the point at which super- 
sensual experience ceases to be merely a practical and interest- 
ing extension of sensual experience — an enlarging, so to speak, 
of the boundaries of existence — and passes over into that 
boundless life where Subject and Object, desirous and desired, 
are one. No sharp line, but rather an infinite series of gradations 
separate the two states. Hence we must look carefully at all 
the pilgrims on the road ; discover, if we can, the motive of their 
travels, the maps which they use, the luggage which they take, 
the end which they attain. 

Now we have said that the end which the mystic sets before 
him on his pilgrimage is conscious union with a living Absolute. 
That Divine Dark, that Abyss of the Godhead, of which he 
sometimes speaks as the goal of his quest, is just this Absolute, 
the Uncreated Light in which the Universe is bathed, and which 
— transcending, as it does, all human powers of expression — he 
can only describe to us as dark. But there is — must be — 
contact " in an intelligible where " between every individual self 
and this Supreme Self, this All. In the mystic this union is 
conscious, personal, and complete. More or less according to 

1 See "Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 387, "The Drunken Consciousness 
is a bit of the Mystic Consciousness." 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OP MYSTICISM 87 

his measure, he has touched the substantial Being of Deity, not 
merely its manifestation in life. This it is which distinguishes 
him from the best and most brilliant of other men, and makes 
his science, in Patmore's words, " the science of self-evident 
Reality." Gazing with him into that ultimate Abyss, that 
unsearchable ground whence the World of Becoming comes 
forth " eternally generated in an eternal Now," we may see only 
the icy darkness of perpetual negations : but he looks upon the 
face of Perfect Love. 

Just as genius in any of the arts is — humanly speaking — the 
final term of a power of which each individual possesses the 
rudiments, so mysticism may be looked upon as the final term, 
the active expression, of a power latent in the whole race : the 
power, that is to say, of so perceiving transcendent reality. 
Few people pass through life without knowing what it is to be 
at least touched by this mystical feeling. He who falls in love 
with a woman and perceives — as the lover really does perceive 
— that the categorical term " girl " veils a wondrous and un- 
speakable reality : he who, falling in love with nature, sees the 
light that never was on sea or land — a vaguely pretty phrase to 
those who have not seen it, but a scientific statement to the 
rest — he who falls in love with invisible things, or as we say 
" undergoes conversion " : all these have truly known for an 
instant something of the secret of the world. 1 



[ . . . Ever and anon a trumpet sounds 
From the hid battlements of Eternity, 
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then 
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again." 



At such moments "Transcendental Feeling, welling up from 
another ' Part of the Soul ' whispers to Understanding and Sense 
that they are leaving out something. What ? Nothing less than 
the secret plan of the Universe. And what is that secret plan ? 
The other ' Part of the Soul ' indeed comprehends it in silence 
as it is, but can explain it to the Understanding only in the 
symbolical language of the interpreter, Imagination — in Vision." 2 
-— Here, in this spark or " part of the soul " is the fountain 

1 Compare above, pp. 24, 26, 57. 

2 T. A. Stewart, "The Myths of Plato," p. 42. 



88 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

alike of the creative imagination and the mystic life. Now 
and again something stings it into consciousness, and man is 
caught up to the spiritual level, catches a glimpse of the " secret 
plan." Then hints of a marvellous truth, a unity whose note is 
ineffable peace, shine in created things ; awakening in the self a 
sentiment of love, adoration, and awe. Its life is enhanced, the 
barrier of personality is broken, man escapes the sense-world, 
ascends to the apex of his spirit, and enters for a brief period 
into the more extended life of the All. 

This intuition of the Real lying at the root of the visible 
world and sustaining its life, is present in a modified form in the 
arts : perhaps it were better to say, must be present if these 
arts are to justify themselves as heightened forms of experience > 
It is this which gives to them that peculiar vitality, that strange 
power of communicating a poignant emotion, half torment and 
half joy, which baffle their more rational interpreters. We 
know that the picture which is " like a photograph," the building 
which is at once handsome and commodious, the novel which is 
a perfect transcript of life, fail to satisfy us. It is difficult to 
say why this should be so unless it were because these things 
have neglected their true business ; which was not to reproduce 
the illusions of ordinary men but to catch and translate for us 
something of that " secret plan," that reality which the artistic 
consciousness is able, in a measure, to perceive. " Painting 
as well as music and poetry exists and exults in immortal 
thoughts," says Blake. 1 That " life-enhancing power " which 
has been recognized by modern critics as the supreme quality 
of good painting, 2 has its origin in this contact of the artistic 
mind with the archetypal — or, if you like, the transcendental — 
world : the underlying verity of things. 

A living critic, in whom poetic genius has brought about the 
unusual alliance of intuition with scholarship, testifies to this 
same truth when he says of the ideals which governed early 
Chinese painting, " In this theory every work of art is thought 
of as an incarnation of the genius of rhythm, manifesting the 
living spirit of things with a clearer beauty and intenser power 
than the gross impediments of complex matter allow to be 
transmitted to our senses in the visible world around us. A 

1 "Descriptive Catalogue." 

2 See Rolleston, "Parallel Paths," 1908. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 89 

picture is conceived as a sort of apparition from a more real 
world of essential life?'* 

That "more real world of essential life " is the world in which 
the " free soul " of the great mystic dwells ; hovering like the 
six-winged seraph before the face of the Absolute. 2 The artist 
too may cross its boundaries in his brief moments of creation : 
but he cannot stay. He comes back to us, bearing its tidings, 
with Dante's cry upon his lips — 

"... Non eran da cio le proprie penne 
se non che la mia mente fu percossa 
da un fulgore, in che sua voglia venne."3 

The mystic may say — is indeed bound to say — with 
St. Bernard, "My secret to myself." Try how he will, his 
stammering and awestruck reports can hardly be understood 
but by those who are already in the way. But the artist cannot 
act thus. On him has been laid the duty of expressing some- 
thing of that which he perceives. He is bound to tell his love. 
In his worship of Perfect Beauty faith must be balanced by 
works. By means of veils and symbols he must interpret his 
free vision, his glimpse of the burning bush, to other men. He 
is the mediator between his brethren and the divine, for art is 
the link between appearance and reality.4 

But we do not call every one who has these partial and 
artistic intuitions of reality a mystic, any more than we call 
every one a musician who has learnt to play the piano. The 
true mystic is the person in whom such powers transcend the 
merely artistic and visionary stage, and are exalted to the point 
of genius : in whom % the transcendental consciousness can 
dominate the normal consciousness, and who has definitely 
surrendered himself to the embrace of Reality. 

As artists stand in a peculiar relation to the phenomenal 
world, receiving rhythms and discovering truths and beauties 

1 Laurence Binyon, " Painting in the Far East," p. 9. 

2 " The Mirror of Simple Souls," f. 141 C. (B.M. Add. 37790). 

3 Par. xxxiii. 139. "Not for this were my wings fitted : save only that my mind 
was smitten by a lightning flash, wherein came to it its desire." 

4 In this connexion Godfernaux {Revue Philosophique, February, 1902) has 
a highly significant remark to the effect that romanticism represents the invasion 
of secular literature by mystic or religious emotion. It is, he says, the secularization 
of the inner life. 



90 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

which are hidden from other men, so this true mystic stands in 
a peculiar relation to the transcendental world ; there expe- 
riencing the onslaught of what must remain for us unimaginable 
delights. His consciousness is transfigured in a particular way, 
he lives at different levels of experience from other people : and 
this of course means that he sees a different world, since the 
world as we know it is the product of specific scraps or aspects 
of reality acting upon a normal and untransfigured conscious- 
ness. Hence his mysticism is no isolated vision, no arbitrary 
glimpse of reality, but a complete system of life — a Syntagma, 
to use Eucken's expressive term. As other men are immersed 
in and react to natural or intellectual life, so the mystic is 
immersed in and reacts to spiritual life. He moves towards 
that utter identification with its interests which he calls " Union 
with God." He has been called a lonely soul. He might more 
properly be described as a lonely body : for his soul, peculiarly re- 
sponsive, sends out and receives communications upon every side. 

The earthly artist, because perception brings with it the im- 
perative longing for expression, tries to give us in colour, sound 
or words a hint of his ecstasy, his glimpse of truth. Only those 
who have tried, know how small a fraction of his vision he can, 
under the most favourable circumstance, contrive to represent. 
The mystic too tries very hard to tell an unwilling world the 
only secret. But in his case, the difficulties are enormously 
increased. First, there is the huge disparity between his un- 
speakable experience and the language which will most nearly 
approach it. Next, there is the great gulf fixed between his 
mind and the mind of the world. His audience must be be- 
witched as well as addressed, caught up to something of his 
state, before they can be made to understand. 

Were he a musician, it is probable that he could give his 
message to other musicians in the terms of that art, far more 
accurately than language will ever allow him to do : for we 
must remember that there is no excuse but that of convenience 
for the pre-eminence amongst modes of expression which we 
accord to words. These correspond so well to the physical 
plane and its adventures, that we forget that they have but the 
faintest of relations with transcendental things. Even the 
artist, before he can make use of them, is bound to re-arrange 
them in accordance with the laws of rhythm : obeying uncon- 



! 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 91 

sciously the rule by which all arts " tend to approach the con- 
dition of music." 

So too the mystic. Mysticism, the most romantic thing in 
the universe, from one point of view the art of arts, their source 
and also their end, finds naturally enough its closest correspon- 
dences in the most purely artistic and most deeply significant of 
all forms of expression. The mystery of music is seldom 
realized by those who so easily accept its gifts. Yet of all the 
arts music alone shares with great mystical literature the 
power of waking us to response to the life-movement of the 
universe : brings us — we know not how — news of its exultant 
passions and its incomparable peace. Beethoven heard the 
very voice of Reality, and little of it escaped when he translated 
it for our ears. 1 

The mediaeval mind, more naturally mystical than ours, 
and therefore more sharply aware of the part which rhythmic 
harmony plays in the worlds of nature and of grace, gave to 
music a Cosmic importance, discerning its operation in many 
phenomena which we now attribute to that dismal figment, 
Law. "There are three kinds of music," says Hugh of St. 
Victor, " the music of the worlds, the music of humanity, the 
music of instruments. Of the music of the worlds, one is of the 
elements, another of the planets, another of Time. Of that 
which is of the elements, one is of number, another of weights, 
another of measure. Of that which is of the planets, one is of 
place, another of motion, another of nature. Of that which is of 
Time, one is of the days and the vicissitudes of light and dark- 
ness ; another of the months and the waxing and waning of the 
moon ; another of the years and the changes of spring, summer, 
autumn and winter. Of the music of humanity, one is of the 
body, another of the soul, another in the connexion that is 
between them." 2 Thus the life of the visible and invisible 
universe consists in a supernal fugue. 

1 Since this passage was written M. Hebert's brilliant monograph " Le Divin " 
(1907) has come into my hands. I take from his pages two examples of the analogy 
between mystical and musical emotion. First that of Gay, who had " the soul, the 
heart, and the head full of music, of another beauty than that which is formulated by 
sounds." Next, that of Ruysbroeck, who, in a passage that might have been written 
by Keats, speaks of Contemplation and Love as " two heavenly pipes " which, blown 
upon by the Holy Spirit, play " ditties of no tone " {op. cit., p. 29). 

8 Hugh of St. Victor, " Didascalicon de Studio Legendi." 



92 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

One contemplative at least, Richard Rolle of Hampole, " the 
father of English mysticism," was acutely aware of this music 
of the soul, discerning in its joyous periods a response to the 
measured harmonies of the spiritual universe. In that beautiful 
description of his inward experience which is one of the jewels 
of mystical literature, nothing is more remarkable than his con- 
stant and deliberate employment of musical imagery. This 
alone, it seems, could catch and translate for him the wild 
rapture of Transcendent Life. The condition of joyous and 
awakened love to which the mystic passes when his purification 
is at an end, is to him, above all else, the state of Song. He 
does not " see " Reality : he " hears " it. For him, as for St. 
Francis of Assisi, it is a " heavenly melody, intolerably sweet." « 

" Song I call," he says, " when in a plenteous soul the sweet- 
ness of eternal love with burning is taken, and thought into 
song is turned, and the mind into full sweet sound is changed." 2 
He who experiences this joyous exaltation "says not his 
prayers like other righteous men " but " is taken into mar- 
vellous mirth : and, goodly sound being descended into him, as 
it were with notes his prayers he sings." 3 So Gertrude More — 
"O lett me sitt alone, silent to all the world and it to me, 
that I may learn the song of Love." 4 

Rolle's own experience of mystic joy seems actually to have 
come to him in this form : the perceptions of his exalted con- 
sciousness presenting themselves to his understanding under 
musical conditions, as other mystics have received them in the 
form of pictures or words. I give in his own words the charming 
account of his passage from the first state of " burning love " to 
the second state of "songful love" — from Calor to Canor — 
when " into song of joy meditation is turned." " In the night, 
before supper, as I my psalms sung, as it were the sound of 
readers or rather singers about me I beheld. Whilst also, 
praying to heaven, with all desire I took heed, suddenly, in what 

1 "Fioretti." Delle Istimati. (Arnold's translation.) 

2 Richard Rolle, "The Fire of Love "(Early English Text Society), bk. i. 
cap. xv. As the Latin version of the " Incendium Amoris" unfortunately still 
remains in MS., in this and subsequent quotations from Rolle I have adopted Misyn's 
fifteenth - century translation, slightly modernizing the spelling, and sometimes 
correcting from the Latin his somewhat obscure language. 

3 Op. cit., bk. i. cap. xxiii. Compare bk. ii. caps. v. and vi. 
♦ " Spiritual Exercises," p. 30. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 93 

manner I wot not, in me the sound of song I felt ; and likeliest 
heavenly melody I took, with me dwelling in mind. Forsooth 
my thought continually to mirth of song was changed : and as 
it were the same that loving I had thought, and in prayers and 
psalms had said, in sound I showed." x 

The song, however, is a mystic melody having little in 
common with its clumsy image, earthly music. Bodily song 
" lets it " ; and " noise of janglers makes it turn again to 
thought," " for sweet ghostly song accords not with outward 
song, the which in churches and elsewhere is used. It discords 
much : for all that is man's voice is formed with bodily ears to 
be heard ; but among angels tunes it has an acceptable melody, 
and with marvel it is commended of them that have known 
it." To others it is incommunicable. " Worldly lovers soothly 
words or ditties of our song may know, for the words they 
read : but the tone and sweetness of that song they may not 
learn." 2 

Such symbolism as this — a living symbolism of experience 
and action as well as of statement — seems almost essential to 
mystical expression. The mind must employ some device of 
the kind if its transcendental perceptions — wholly unrelated as 
they are to the phenomena with which intellect is able to deal — 
are ever to be grasped by the surface consciousness. Some- 
times the symbol and the perception which it represents become 
fused in that consciousness ; and the mystic's experience then 
presents itself to him as " visions " or " voices " which we must 
look upon as the garment he has himself provided to veil that 
Reality upon which no man may look and live. The nature of 
this garment will be largely conditioned by his temperament — as 
in Rolle's evident bias towards music, St. Catherine of Genoa's 
leaning towards the abstract conceptions of fire and light — and 
also by his theological education and environment ; as in the 
highly dogmatic visions and auditions of St. Gertrude, Suso, St. 
Catherine of Siena, the Blessed Angela of Foligno ; above all 

1 Op. cit. y bk. i. cap. xvi. 

2 Op. cit. , bk. ii. caps. iii. and xii. Shelley is of the same opinion : — 

"The world can hear not the sweet notes that move 
The Sphere whose light is melody to lovers." 

(" The Triumph of Life.") 



94 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of St. Teresa, whose marvellous self-analyses provide the classic 
account of these attempts of the mind to translate transcen-* 
dental intuitions into concepts with which it can deal. 

The greatest mystics, however — Ruysbroeck, St. John of the 
Cross, and St. Teresa herself in her later stages — distinguish 
clearly between the indicible Reality which they perceive and 
the image under which they describe it. Again and again they 
tell us with Dionysius and Eckhart, that the Object of their 
contemplation " hath no image " : or with St. John of the Cross 
that " the soul can never attain to the height of the divine union, 
so far as it is possible in this life, through the medium of any 
forms or figures." * Therefore the attempt which has sometimes 
been made to identify mysticism with such forms and figures — 
with visions, voices, and " supernatural favours " — is clearly 
wrong. 

" The highest and most divine things which it is given us to 
see and to know," says Dionysius the Areopagite plainly, " are 
in some way the expression of all That which the sovereign 
Nature of God includes: an expression which reveals to us 
That which escapes all thought and which has its seat beyond 
the heights of heaven." 2 

The mystic, as a rule, cannot wholly do without symbol and 
image, inadequate to his vision though they must always be: 
for his experience must be expressed if it is to be communi- 
cated, and its actuality is inexpressible except in some side-long 
way, some hint or parallel which will stimulate the dormant 
intuition of the reader, and convey, as all poetic language does, 
something beyond its surface sense. Hence the enormous part 
which is played in all mystical writings by symbolism and 
imagery; and also by that rhythmic and exalted language 
which induces in sensitive persons something of the languid 
ecstasy of dream. The close connection between rhythm 
and heightened states of consciousness is as yet little 
understood. Its further investigation will probably throw 
much light on ontological as well as psychological problems. 
Mystical, no less than musical and poetic perception, tends 
naturally — we know not why — to present itself in rhythmical 

1 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. xvi. (Here and throughout I quote 
from Lewis's translation.) 

2 " De Mystica Theologia," i. 3. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 95 

periods : a feature which is also strongly marked in writings 
obtained in the automatic state. So constant is this law in 
some subjects that Baron von Hiigel, in his biography of St 
Catherine of Genoa, has adopted the presence or absence of 
rhythm as a test whereby to distinguish the genuine utterances 
of the saint from those wrongly attributed to her by successive 
editors of her legend. 1 

All kinds of symbolic language come naturally to the 
articulate mystic, who is usually a literary artist as well : so 
naturally, that he sometimes forgets to explain that his utter- 
ance is but symbolic ; a desperate attempt to translate the 
truth of that world into the beauty of this. It is here that 
mysticism joins hands with music and poetry : had this fact 
always been recognized by its critics, they would have been 
saved from many regrettable and some ludicrous misconceptions. 
Symbol — the clothing which the spiritual borrows from the 
material plane — is a form of artistic expression. That is to 
say, it is not literal but suggestive : though the artist who uses 
it may sometimes lose sight of this distinction. Hence the 
persons who imagine that the " Spiritual Marriage " of St. 
Catherine or St. Teresa veils a perverted sexuality, that the 
vision of the Sacred Heart involved an incredible anatomical 
experience, or that the divine inebriation of the Sufis is the 
apotheosis of drunkenness, do but advertise their ignorance of 
the mechanism of the arts : like the lady who thought that 
Blake must be mad because he said that he had touched the 
sky with his finger. 

Further, the study of the mystics, the keeping company how- 
ever humbly with their minds, brings with it as music or poetry 
does — but in a far greater degree — a strange exhilaration, as if 
we were brought near to some mighty source of Being, were at 
last on the verge of the secret which all seek. The symbols 
displayed, the actual words employed, when we analyse them, 
are not enough to account for such effect. It is rather that 
these messages from the waking transcendental self of another, 
stir our own deeper selves in their sleep. It were hardly an 
extravagance to say, that those writings which are the outcome 
of true and first-hand mystical experience may be known by 
this power of imparting to the reader the sense of exalted and 
1 Von Hiigel, " The Mystical Element in Religion," vol. i. p. 189. 



96 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

extended life. " All mystics," says Saint-Martin, " speak the 
same language, for they come from the same country." The 
deep undying life which nests within us came from that country 
too : and it recognizes the accents of home, though it cannot 
always understand what they would say. 

Now, returning to our original undertaking, that of defining 
if we can the characteristics of true mysticism, I think that 
we have already reached a point at which William James's cele- 
brated " four marks" of the mystic state, 1 Ineffability, Noetic 
Quality, Transiency, and Passivity, will fail to satisfy us. In 
their place I propose to set out, illustrate and, I hope, justify 
four other rules or notes which may be applied as tests to any 
given case which claims to take rank amongst the mystics. 

1. True mysticism is active and practical, not passive and 
theoretical. It is an organic life-process, a something which 
the whole self does ; not something as to which its intellect 
holds an opinion. 

2. Its aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual. It is 
in no way concerned with adding to, exploring, re-arranging, 
or improving anything in the visible universe. The mystic 
brushes aside that universe even in its most supernormal mani- 
festations. Though he does not, as his enemies declare, neglect 
his duty to the many, his heart is always set upon the change- 
less One. 

3. This One is for the mystic, not merely the Reality of all 
that is, but also a living and personal Object of Love ; never 
an object of exploration. It draws his whole being homeward, 
but always under the guidance of the heart. 

4. Living union with this One — which is the term of his 
adventure — is a definite state or form of enhanced life. It is 
obtained neither from an intellectual realization of its delights, 
nor from the most acute emotional longings. Though these 
must be present, they are not enough. It is arrived at by a 
definite and arduous psychological process — the so-called Mystic 
Way— entailing the complete remaking of character and the 
liberation of a new, or rather latent, form of consciousness, 
which imposes on the self the condition which is sometimes 
inaccurately called " ecstasy," but is better named the Unitive 
State. 

* " Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 380. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 97 

Mysticism, then, is not an opinion : it is not a philosophy. 
It has nothing in common with the pursuit of occult know- 
ledge. It is not merely the power of contemplating Eternity. 
It is the name of that organic process which involves the perfect 
consummation of the Love of God : the achievement here and 
now of the immortal heritage of man. Or, if you like it better 
— for this means exactly the same thing — it is the art of 
establishing his conscious relation with the Absolute. 

The movement of mystic consciousness towards this con- 
summation, is not merely the sudden admission to an over- 
whelming vision of Truth : it is rather an ordered movement 
towards ever higher levels of reality, ever closer identification 
with the Infinite. "The mystic experience," says Recejac, 
"ends with the words, ' I live, yet not I, but God in me.' This 
feeling of identification, which is the term of mystical activity, 
has a very important significance. In its early stages the 
mystic consciousness feels the Absolute in opposition to the 
Self ... as mystic activity goes on, it tends to abolish this 
opposition. . . . When it has reached its term the consciousness 
finds itself possessed by the sense of a Being at one and the 
same time greater than the Self and identical with it : great 
enough to be God, intimate enough to be me." * 

This is the mystic union which is the only possible fulfil- 
ment of mystic love : since 

" All that is not One must ever 
Suffer with the wound of Absence, 
And whoever in Love's city 
Enters, finds but room for One 
And but in One-ness, Union." 2 

The history of mysticism is the history of the demonstration 
of this law upon the plane of reality. 

Now, how do these statements square with the practice of 
the great mystics ; and with the various forms of activity which 
have been classified at one time or another as mystical ? 

(i) Mysticism is practical, not theoretical. 

This statement taken alone \? not of course enough to 
identify mysticism, since it is equally true of magic, which also 

x " Les Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 45. 
2 Jamf. Quoted in " Jelalu 'd Din " (Wisdom of the East Series), p. 25. 
H 



98 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

proposes to itself something to be done rather than something 
to be believed. It at once comes into collision, however, with 
the opinions of the group of writers who believe mysticism to 
be " the reaction of the born Platonist upon religion." 

The difference between such devout philosophers and 
the true mystic, is the difference which the late Father 
Tyrrell defined as separating theology from revelation. 1 
Mysticism, like revelation, is final and personal. It is 
not merely a beautiful and suggestive diagram of experience, 
but is of the very stuff of life. In the superb words of 
Plotinus, it is the soul's solitary adventure : " the flight of 
the Alone to the Alone." 2 Its vision provides the material, 
the substance, the actual experience, upon which mystical 
philosophy cogitates ; as the theologians cogitate upon the 
individual revelations which form the basis of faith. Hence 
those whom we are to accept as mystics must have received, 
and acted upon, intuitions of a Truth which is for them absolute. 
If we are to acknowledge that they "knew the doctrine" 
they must have " lived the life," submitted to the interior 
travail of the Mystic Way, not merely have reasoned about 
the mystical experiences of others. We could not well, 
dispense with our Christian Platonists and mystical philoso- 
phers. They are our stepping stones to higher things ; 
interpret to our dull minds, entangled in the sense-world, 
the ardent vision of those who speak to us from the dimension 
of Reality. But they are no more mystics than the mile- 
stones on the Dover Road are travellers to Calais. Some- 
times their words — the wistful words of those who know but 
cannot be — produce mystics ; as the sudden sight of a sign- 
post pointing to the sea will rouse the spirit of adventure 
in a boy. Also there are many instances of true mystics, 
such as Eckhart, who have philosophized upon their own 
experiences, greatly to the advantage of the world ; and others 
— Plotinus is the most characteristic example — of Platonic 
philosophers who have passed far beyond the limits of their 
own philosophy, and abandoned the making of diagrams for 
an experience, however imperfect, of the reality at which 
these diagrams hint. It were more accurate to reverse the 

1 " Through Scylla and Charybdis," p. 264. 

2 Ennead vi. 9. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 99 

epigram above stated, and say, that Platonism is the re- 
action of the born intellectualist upon mystical truth. 

Over and over again the great mystics tell us, not how 
they speculated, but how they acted. To them, the passage 
from the life of sense to the life of spirit is a veritable under- 
taking, which demands effort and constancy. The paradoxical 
"quiet" of the contemplative is but the outward stillness 
essential to inward work. Their favourite symbols are those 
of action : battle, search, and pilgrimage. 

" In an obscure night 
Fevered with love's anxiety 
(O hapless, happy plight !) 
I went, none seeing me, 
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be,"* 

said St. John of the Cross, in his poem of the mystic quest. 

" It became evident to me," says Al Ghazzali of his 
own search for mystic truth, " that the Sufis are men of 
intuition and not men of words. I recognized that I had 
learnt all that can be learnt of Sufiism by study, and that 
the rest could not be learnt by study or by speech." 3 "Let 
no one suppose," says the " Theologia Germanica," " that we 
may attain to this true light and perfect knowledge ... by 
hearsay, or by reading and study, nor yet by high skill and 
great learning." 3 "It is not enough," says Gerlac Petersen, 
" to know by estimation merely : but we must know by 
experience." 4 

So Mechthild of Magdeburg says of v her revelations, " The 
writing of this book was seen, heard, and experienced in 
every limb. ... I see it with the eyes of my soul, and hear 
it with the ears of my eternal spirit." 5 

" The invitation of the mystic life is to come and see* the 
promise of the mystic life is that we shall attain to see." 6 
Those who suppose it to be merely a pleasing consciousness 

x " En una Noche Escura," Stanza I. I quote from Mr. Arthur Symons's 
beautiful translation, which will be found in vol, ii. of his Collected Poems. 

2 Schmolders, " Les Ecoles Philosophiques chez les Arabes," p. 55. 

3 Cap. xix. 

4 " Ignitum cum Deo Soliloquium, " cap. xi. 

5 " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. iv. cap. 13. 

6 A. E. Waite, "Studies in Mysticism," p. 53. 



100 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of the Divine in the world, a sense of the "otherness" of 
things, a basking in the beams of the Uncreated Light, are 
only playing with Reality. True mystical achievement is the 
most complete and most difficult expression of life which is 
as yet possible to man. It is at once an act of love, an 
act of union, and an act of supreme perception ; a trinity of 
experiences which meets and satisfies the three activities of 
the self. Religion might give us the first and metaphysics 
the third of these processes. Only Mysticism can offer the 
middle term of the series ; the essential link which binds the 
three in one. " Secrets," says St. Catherine of Siena, " are 
revealed to a friend who has become one thing with his friend 
and not to a servant." x 

(2) Mysticism is an entirely Spiritual Activity. 

This rule provides us with a further limitation, which of 
course excludes all the practisers of magic and of magical 
religion : even in their most exalted and least materialistic 
forms. As we shall see when we come to consider these 
persons, their object — not necessarily an illegitimate one — is to 
improve and elucidate the visible by help of the invisible : to 
use the supernormal powers of the self for the increase of 
power, virtue, happiness or knowledge. The mystic never turns 
back on himself in this way, or tries to combine the advant- 
ages of two worlds. At the term of his development he knows 
God by communion, and this direct intuition of the Absolute 
kills all lesser cravings. He possesses God, and needs nothing 
more. Though he will spend himself ceaselessly and tirelessly 
for other men, become "an agent of the Eternal Goodness," 
he is destitute of supersensual ambitions, craves no occult 
knowledge or power. Having his eyes set on eternity, his 
consciousness steeped in it, he can well afford to tolerate the 
entanglements of time. "His spirit," says Tauler, "is as it 
were sunk and lost in the Abyss of the Deity, and loses the 
consciousness of all creature-distinctions. All things are 
gathered together in one with the divine sweetness, and the 
man's being is so penetrated with the divine substance that 
he loses himself therein, as a drop of water is lost in a cask 
of strong wine. And thus the man's spirit is so sunk in God 
in divine union, that he loses all sense of distinction . . . and 

1 Dialogo, cap. Ix. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 101 

there remains a secret, still union, without cloud or colour." 1 
" 1 wish not," said St. Catherine of Genoa, " for anything that 
comes forth from Thee, but only for Thee, oh sweetest Love ! " - 
8 The Soul," says Plotinus in one of his most profound 
passages, "having now arrived at the desired end, and par- 
ticipating of Deity, will know that the Supplier of true life 
is then present. She will likewise then require nothing farther ; 
for, on the contrary it will be requisite to lay aside other 
things, to stop in this alone, amputating everything else with 
which she is surrounded." 3 

(3) The business and method of Mysticism is Love. 

Here is one of the most distinctive notes of true mysticism ; 
a note which marks it off from every other kind of tran- 
scendental theory and practice, arid provides the answer to the 
question with which our last chapter closed. It is the eager, 
outgoing activity whose driving power is generous love, not the 
absorbent, indrawing activity which strives only for new know- 
ledge, that is fruitful in the spiritual as well as in the physical 
world. 

Having said this, however, we must add — as we did when 
speaking of the " heart " — that the word Love as applied to the } 
mystics is to be understood in its deepest, fullest sense ; as the / 
ultimate expression of the self's most vital tendencies, not as 
the superficial affection or emotion often dignified by this name. 
Mystic Love is the offspring of the Celestial Venus ; the deep- 
seated desire and tendency of the soul towards its source.4 It 
is a condition of humble access, a life-movement of the self: 
more direct in its methods, more valid in its results, — even in the 
hands of the least lettered of its adepts — than the most piercing 
intellectual vision of the greatest philosophic mind. Over and 
over again the mystics insist upon this. " For silence is not 
God, nor speaking is not God ; fasting is not God nor eating is 
not God ; onliness is not God nor company is not God ; nor 
yet any of all the other two such quantities. He is hid between 
them, and may not be found by any work of thy soul, but all ! 
only by love of thine heart. He may not be known by reason, 
He may not be gotten by thought, nor concluded by under- 

1 Tauler, Sermon lor Septuagesima Sunday (Winkworth's translation, p. 253). 

2 Vita e Dottrina, cap. vi. 3 Ennead vi. 9. 
4 Plotinus, loc. cit. 



102 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

standing ; but he may be loved and chosen with the true lovely- 
will of thine heart. . . . Such a blind shot with the sharp dart 
of longing love may never fail of the prick, the which is 
God." * 

" Come down quickly," says the Incomprehensible Godhead 
to the soul that has struggled like Zacchaeus to the topmost 
branches of the theological tree, " for I would dwell with you 
to-day. And this swift descent which God demands is simply 
an immersion by love and desire in that abyss of the God- 
head which the intellect cannot understand. Here, where 
the intelligence must rest without, love and desire can 
enter in." 2 

One might compile volumes of extracts from the works of 
the mystics illustrative of this rule, which is indeed its central 
principle ; for " Love," says Rolle, " truly suffers not a loving 
soul to bide in itself, but ravishes it out to the Lover, that the 
soul is more there where it loves, than where the body is that 
lives and feels it." " Oh singular joy of love everlasting," he 
says again, "that ravishes all his to heavens above all worlds, 
them binding with bands of virtue ! Oh dear charity, in earth 
that has thee not is nought wrought, whatever it hath ! He 
truly in thee that is busy, to joy above earthly is soon lifted ! 
. . . Oh merry love, strong, ravishing, burning, wilful, strong, 
unslaked, that all my soul brings to thy service, and suffers to 
think on nothing but thee. . . . Oh clear charity, come into me 
and take me into thee, and so present me before my Maker. 
Thou art a savour well tasting, sweetness well smelling, a 
pleasing odour, a cleansing heat, a comfort endlessly lasting. 
Thou makest men contemplative, heaven-gate thou openest, 
mouths of accusers thou dost shut, God thou makest to be seen 
and multitude of sins thou hidest. We praise thee, we preach 
thee, by thee the world we quickly overcome, by whom we joy 
and the heavenly ladder we ascend." 3 

Love to the mystic, then, is (a) the active, conative expres- 
sion of his will and desire for the Absolute, (b) his innate 

1 " An Epistle of Discretion." This beautiful old English tract, probably by the 
author of the " Cloud of Unknowing," is printed by E. Gardner, "The Cell of Self 
Knowledge," p. 108. 

3 Ruysbroeck, " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. i. cap. xxvi. 

3 " The Mending of Life," cap. xi. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 103 

tendency to that Absolute : his spiritual weight. He is only 
thoroughly natural, thoroughly alive, when he is obeying 
its voice. For him it is the source of joy : the secret of the 
universe : the vivifying principle of things. In the words of 
Recejac, " Mysticism claims to be able to know the Unknowable 
without any help from dialectics ; and believes that, by the way 
of love and will, it reaches a point to which thought alone is 
unable to attain." Again, " It is the heart and never the reason 
which leads us to the Absolute." * Hence in St. Catherine of 
Siena's exquisite allegory it is the feet of the soul's affection 
which brings it first to the Bridge, "for the feet carry the body 
as affection carries the soul." 2 

Page after page of the jewels of mystical literature glow 
with this intimate and impassioned love of the Absolute ; which 
transcends the dogmatic language in which it is clothed and 
become applicable to mystics of every race and creed. There 
is little difference in this between the extremes of Eastern and 
Western thought : between A Kempis the Christian and 
Jelalu 'd Din the Moslem saint. 

" How great a thing is Love, great above all other goods : 
for alone it makes all that is heavy light, and bears evenly all 
that is uneven. . . . 

" Love would be aloft, nor will it be kept back by any lower 
thing. Love would be free, and estranged from all worldly 
affection, that its inward sight be not hindered : that it may not 
be entangled by any temporal comfort, nor succumb to any 
tribulation. 

"Nought is sweeter than love, nought stronger, nought 
higher, nought wider : there is no more joyous, fuller, better 
thing in heaven or earth. For love is born of God, and cannot 
rest save in God, above all created things. 

" The lover flies, runs, and rejoices : he is free, and cannot be 
restrained. He gives all for all, and has all in all ; for he rests 
in One Supreme above all, from whom all good flows and 
proceeds. 

" He looks not at the gift, but above all goods turns himself 
to the giver. 

". . . He who loves knows the cry of this voice. For this 

1 " Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 7. 

2 Dialogo, cap. xxvi. 



104 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

burning affection of the soul is a loud cry in the ears of God 
when it saith ' My God, My Love, Thou art all mine, and I am 
all Thine.' " « 

So much for the Christian. Now for the Persian mystic. 

" While the thought of the Beloved fills our hearts 
All our work is to do Him service and spend life for Him. 
Wherever He kindles His destructive torch, 
Myriads of lovers' souls are burnt therewith. 
The lovers who dwell within the sanctuary 
Are moths burnt with the torch of the Beloved's face, 
O heart, hasten thither ! for God will shine upon you, 
And seem to you a sweet garden instead of a terror. 
He will infuse into your soul a new soul, 
So as to fill you, like a goblet, with wine. 
Take up your abode in His Soul ! 
Take up your abode in heaven, oh bright full moon ! 
Like the heavenly Scribe, He will open your heart's book, 
That he may reveal mysteries unto you." 2 

Well might Hilton say that "Perfect love maketh God 
and the soul to be as if they both together were but one 
thing," 3 and Tauler that " the well of life is love, and he who 
dwelleth not in love is dead." 4 

"When I love God with my will, I transform myself into 
Him," says St. Bernard, " for this is the power or virtue ot 
love, that it maketh thee to be like unto that which thou 
lovest" 5 

These, nevertheless, are objective and didactic utterances ; 
though their substance may be — probably is — personal, their 
form is not. But if we want to see what it really means to be 
"in love with the Absolute," — how intensely actual to the 
mystic is the Object of his passion, how far removed from the 
sphere of pious duty, or of philosophic speculation, how concrete, 
positive and dominant such a passion may be — we must study 
the literature of autobiography, not that of poetry or exhorta- 
tion. I choose for this purpose, rather than the well-known self- 
analyses of St. Augustine, St. Teresa or Suso, which are acces- 

1 " De Imitatione Christi," 1. iii. cap. v. 

a " Jelalu 'd Din" (Wisdom of the East Series), p. 79. 

3 "The Scale of Perfection, " p. 339. 

4 Sermon for Thursday in Easter week (Winkworth's translation, p. 294). 
* Quoted in the "Soliloquies of St. Bonaventura," ex. i. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 105 

sible to every one, the more private confessions of that remark- 
able and neglected mystic Dame Gertrude More, contained in 
her "Spiritual Exercises." 

This nun, great-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas More, 
and favourite pupil of the celebrated Benedictine contemplative, 
the Ven. Augustine Baker, exhibits the romantic and personal 
side of mysticism far more perfectly than even St. Teresa, whose 
works were composed for her daughters' edification. She was 
an eager student of St. Augustine, " my deere deere Saint," as 
she calls him more than once. He has evidently influenced her 
language ; but her passion is her own. 

Remember that Gertrude More's confessions represent the 
most secret conversations of her soul with God. They were not 
meant for publication ; but, written for the most part on blank 
leaves in her breviary, were discovered and published after 
her death. " She called them," says the title-page with touching 
simplicity, "A mor ordinem nescit : an Ideot's Devotions. Her 
only spiritual father and directour, Father Baker, styled them 
Confessiones Amantis, A Lover's Confessions. Amans Deum 
anima sub Deo despicit universa. A soul that loveth God 
despiseth all things that be inferiour unto God." 1 

The spirit of her little book is summed up in two epigrams : 
epigrams of which her contemporary, Crashaw, might have been 
proud. " To give all for love, is a most sweet bargain." 2 " O 
let me love, or not live ! " 3 — surely a nobler concept of the 
devoirs of spiritual chivalry than St. Teresa's more celebrated 
and uncompromising alternative : Aut pati aut mori. Love 
indeed was her life : and she writes of it with a rapture which 
recalls at one moment St. Francis de Sales, at another the love 
songs of the Elizabethan poets. 

" Never was there or can there be imagined such a Love, as is 
between an humble soul and thee. Who can express what 
passeth between such a soul and thee ? Verily neither man nor 
Angell is able to do it sufficiently. ... In thy prayse I am only 
happy, in which, my Joy, I will exullt with all that love thee. 
For what can be a comfort while I live separated from thee, but 
only to remember that my God, who is more myne than I am 

1 They were printed in 1658, " At Paris by Lewis de la Fosse in the Carme 
Street at the Signe of the Looking Glasse." I quote from this edition. 
a P. 138. 3 p. X 8i. 



106 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

my owne, is absolutely and infinitely happy ? . . . Out of this 
true love between a soul and thee, there ariseth such a know- 
ledge in the soul that it loatheth all that is an impediment to 
her further proceeding in the Love of thee. O Love, Love, even 
by naming thee, my soul loseth itself in thee. . . . Nothing can 
Satiate a reasonable soul, but only thou : and having of thee, 
who art indeed all, nothing could be said to be wanting to her. 
. . . Blessed are the cleane of hart for they shall see God. O sight 
to be wished, desired, and longed for ; because once to have 
seen thee is to have learnt all things. Nothing can bring us 
to this sight but love. But what love must it be ? not a sensible 
love only, a childish love, a love which seeketh itself more than 
the beloved. No, no, but it must be an ardent love, a pure love, 
a couradgious love, a love of charity, an humble love, and a 
constant love, not worn out with labours, not daunted with any 
difficulties. . . . For that soul that hath set her whole love and 
desire on thee, can never find any true satisfaction, but only in 
thee." i 

Who will not see that we have here no literary exercise, but 
the fruits of an experience of peculiar intensity? It answers 
exactly to one of the best modern definitions of mysticism as 
" in essence, the concentration of all the forces of the soul upon 
a supernatural Object, conceived and loved as a living Person.'' 2 
" Love and desire," says the same critic, " are the fundamental 
necessities ; and where they are absent man, even though he be 
a visionary, cannot be called a mystic." 3 Such a definition, of 
course, is not complete. It is valuable however because it 
emphasizes the fact that all true mysticism is rooted in per- 
sonality ; and is therefore fundamentally a science of the heart. 

" The passion which constrains the stars " also constrains that 
starry thing, the soul. Attraction, desire, and uniom as the 
fulfilment of desire, this is the way Life works, in the highest as 
in the lowest things. The mystic's outlook, indeed, is the lover's 
outlook. It has the same element of wildness, the same quality 
of selfless and quixotic devotion, the same combination of 
rapture and humility. This parallel is more than a pretty fancy : 
for mystic and lover, upon different planes, are alike responding 
to the call of the Spirit of Life. The language of human 

1 Op. cit., pp. 9, i6, 25, 35, 138, 175. 

a Berger, *« William Blake," p. 72. 3 Ibid., p. 74. 






THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 107 

passion is tepid and insignificant beside the language in which 
the mystics try to tell the splendours of their love. They force 
upon the unprejudiced reader the conviction that they are dealing 
with an ardour far more burning for an Object far more real. 

" This monk can give lessons to lovers ! " exclaimed Arthur 
Symons in astonishment of St. John of the Cross. 1 It would be 
strange if he could not ; since their finite passions are but the 
feeble images of his infinite one, their beloved the imperfect 
symbol of his First and only Fair. "I saw Him and sought 
Him : I had Him and I wanted Him," says Julian of Norwich, 
in a phrase which seems to sum up all the ecstasy and longing 
of man's soul. Only this mystic passion can lead us from our 
prison. Its brother, the desire of knowledge, may enlarge and 
improve the premises to an extent as yet undreamed of: but it 
can never unlock the doors. 

(4) Mysticism entails a definite Psychological Experience. 

That is to say, it shows itself not merely as an attitude of 
mind and heart, but as a form of organic life. It is not a theory 
of the intellect or a hunger, however passionate, of the heart : 
but a definite and peculiar development of the whole self, con- 
scious and unconscious, under the spur of such a hunger : a 
remaking of the whole character on high levels in the interests 
of the transcendental life. The mystics are emphatic in their 
statement that spiritual desires are useless unless they involve 
the movement of the whole self towards the Real. 

Thus in the visions of Mechthild of Magdeburg, " The soul 
spake thus to her Desire, ' Fare forth and see where my Love is. 
Say to him that I desire to love.' So Desire sped forth, for she 
is quick of her nature, and came to the Empyrean and cried. 
Great Lord, open and let me in ! ' Then said the House- 
holder of that place : ' What means this fiery eagerness ? ■ 
Desire replied, 'Lord, I would have thee know that my lady 
can no longer bear to live. If Thou wouldst flow forth to her, 
then might she swim : but the fish cannot long exist that is left 
stranded on the shore.' ' Go back,' said the Lord, ■ I will not 
let thee in unless thou bring to me that hungry soul, for it is in 
this alone that I take delight' " 3 

We have said3 that the full mystic consciousness is extended 

1 Contemporary Review, April, 1899. 

" "Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. Hi. cap. 1. * Supra, p. 42. 



108 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

in two distinct directions. So too there are two distinct sides to 
the full mystical experience. (A) The vision or consciousness 
of Absolute Perfection. (B) The inward transmutation to 
which that Vision compels the mystic, in order that he may be 
to some extent worthy of that which he has beheld : may take 
his place within the order of Reality. He has seen the Perfect ; 
he wants to be perfect too. The " third term," the necessary 
bridge between the Absolute and the Self, can only, he feels, be 
moral and spiritual transcendence — in a word, Sanctity — for "the 
only means of attaining the Absolute lies in adapting ourselves 
to It." z The moral virtues are for him, then, the obligatory 
" ornaments of the Spiritual Marriage " as Ruysbroeck called 
them : though far more than their presence is needed to bring 
that marriage about. Unless this impulse for moral perfection 
be born in him, this travail of the inner life begun, he is no 
mystic : though he may well be a visionary, a prophet, a 
l< mystical " poet. 

Moreover, this process of transmutation, this rebuilding of 
the self on higher levels, will involve the establishment within 
the field of consciousness, the making " central for life," of those 
subconscious spiritual perceptions which are the primary 
material of mystical experience. The end and object of this 
" inward alchemy " will be the raising of the whole self to the 
condition in which conscious and permanent union with the 
Absolute takes place ; and man, ascending to the summit of his 
manhood, enters into that greater life for which he was made. 

In its journey towards this union, the subject passes through 
certain well-marked phases, which constitute what is known as 
the " Mystic Way." This statement rules out from the true 
mystic kingdom all merely sentimental and affective piety and 
visionary poetry, no less than mystical philosophy. It brings 
us back to our first proposition — the concrete and practical 
nature of the mystical act. 

More than the apprehension of God, then, more than the 
passion for the Absolute, is needed to make a mystic. These 
must be combined with an appropriate psychological make-up, 
with a nature capable of extraordinary concentration, an exalted 
moral emotion, a nervous organization of the artistic type. All 
these are necessary to the successful development of the mystic 
1 R6c£jac, op. cit. p. 35. 






THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 109 

life process. In the experience of the mystics who have left us 
the records of their own lives, the successive stages of this life 
process are always traceable. In the second part of this book, 
they will be found worked out at some length. Rolle, Suso, 
Madame Guyon, St. Teresa, and many others have left us 
valuable self-analyses for comparison : and from them we see 
how arduous, how definite, and how far removed from mere 
emotional or intellectual activity, is that educational discipline 
by which " the eye which looks upon Eternity " is able to come 
to its own. " One of the marks of the true mystic," says Leuba, 
" is the tenacious and heroic energy with which he pursues a 
definite moral ideal." * " He is," says Pacheu, " the pilgrim of 
an inward Odyssey." 2 Though we may be amazed and 
delighted by his adventures and discoveries on the way, to him 
the voyage and the end are all. " The road on which we enter is 
a royal road which leads to heaven," says St. Teresa. " Is it 
strange that the conquest of such a treasure should cost us 
rather dear ? " 3 

It is one of the many indirect testimonies to the objective 
reality of mysticism that the stages of this road, the psychology 
of the spiritual ascent, as described to us by different schools of 
contemplatives, always present practically the same sequence 
of states. The " school for saints " has never found it necessary 
to bring its curriculum up to date. The psychologist finds little 
difficulty, for instance, in reconciling the " Degrees of Orison " 
described by St. Teresa 4 — Recollection, Quiet, Union, Ecstasy, 
Rapt, the " Pain of God," and the Spiritual Marriage of the soul 
— with the four forms of contemplation enumerated by Hugh of 
St. Victor, or the Sufi's " Seven Stages " of the soul's ascent to 
God, which begin in adoration and end in spiritual marriage.5 
Though each wayfarer may choose different landmarks, it is 
clear from their comparison that the road is one. 

(5) As a corollary to these four rules, it is perhaps well to 
reiterate the statement already made, that True Mysticism is 
never self-seeking. It is not, as many think, the pursuit of 

1 Revue Philosophique, July, 1902. 

2 " Psychologie des Mystiques Chretiens," p. 14. 

3 ** Camino de Perfeccion," cap. xxiii. 
« In " El Castillo Interior." 

5 See Palmer, " Oriental Mysticism," pt. v. ch. v. 



110 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

supernatural joys ; the satisfaction of a high ambition. The 
mystic does not enter on his quest because he desires the 
happiness of the Beatific Vision, the ecstasy of union with the 
Absolute, or any other personal reward. 

In "that strange, extravagant, and heroic character which 
calls itself a Christian mystic," x that noblest of all passions, the 
passion for perfection for Love's sake, far outweighs the desire 
for transcendental satisfaction. " O Love," said St. Catherine of 
Genoa, " I do not wish to follow thee for sake of these delights, 
but solely from the motive of true love." 2 Those who do other- 
wise are only, in the plain words of St. John of the Cross, 
"spiritual gluttons ":3 or, in the milder metaphor here adopted, 
magicians of the more high-minded sort. The true mystic 
claims no promises and makes no demands. He goes because 
he must, as Galahad went towards the Grail : knowing that for 
those who can live it, this alone is life. He never rests in that 
search for God which he holds to be the fulfilment of his highest 
duty ; yet he seeks without any certainty of success. He holds 
with St. Bernard that " He alone is God who can never be 
sought in vain : not even when He cannot be found." 4 With 
Mechthild of Magdeburg, he hears the Absolute saying in his 
soul, " O soul, before the world was I longed for thee : and I 
still long for thee, and thou for Me. Therefore, when our two 
desires unite, Love shall be fulfilled." 5 

Like his type, the "devout lover" of romance, then, the 
mystic serves without hope of reward. By one of -the many 
paradoxes of the spiritual life, he obtains satisfaction because he 
does not seek it ; completes his personality because he gives it 
up. "Attainment," says Dionysius the Areopagite in words 
which are writ large on the annals of Christian ecstasy, " comes 
only by means of this sincere, spontaneous, and entire surrender 
of yourself and all things. 6 Only with the annihilation of self- 
hood comes the fulfilment of love. Were the mystic asked the 
cause of his often extraordinary behaviour, his austere and 
steadfast quest, it is unlikely that his reply would contain any 

1 Leuba, op. cit. 

2 Vita, p. 8. 

3 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. vii. 

4 "De Consideratione," 1. v. cap. xi. 

s " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. vii. cap. 16. 
6 "De Mystica Theologia," i, I. 



THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 111 

reference to sublime illumination or unspeakable delights. It is 
more probable that he would answer in some such words as 
those of Jacob Boehme, " I am not come to this meaning, or to 
this work and knowledge through my own reason or through 
my own will and purpose ; neither have I sought this knowledge 
nor so much as to know anything concerning it. I sought only 
for the heart of God, therein to hide myself." x 

It has been well said that such a search is " not the quest of 
joy," but " the satisfaction of a craving impelled by the spur of 
necessity." 2 This craving is the craving of the soul, unable to 
rest in those symbols of the sensual world which only feed the 
little tract of normal consciousness, to attain that fulness of life 
for which she was made : to " lose herself in That which can be 
neither seen nor touched; giving herself entirely to this sovereign 
Object without belonging either to herself or to others ; united 
to the Unknown by the most noble part of herself and because 
of her renouncement of knowledge ; finally drawing from this 
absolute ignorance a knowledge which the understanding knows 
not how to attain." 3 Mysticism, then, is seen as the " one way 
out " for the awakened spirit of man. It is the healing of that 
human incompleteness which is the origin of our divine unrest : 
the inevitable reaction of the fully conscious, fully living soul 
upon "Eternal Truth, True Love, and Loved Eternity."4 " I am 
sure," says Eckhart, " that if a soul knew the very least of all that 
Being means, it would never turn away from it." s The mystics 
have never turned away : to do so would have seemed to them 
a self-destructive act. Here, in this world of illusion, they say, 
we have no continuing city. This statement, to you a 
proposition, is to us the central fact of life. " Therefore, it is 
necessary to hasten our departure from hence, and to be 
indignant that we are bound in one part of our nature, in order 
that with the whole of our selves, we may fold ourselves about 
Divinity, and have no part void of contact with Him." 6 

To sum up. Mysticism is seen to be a highly specialized 
form of that search for reality, for heightened and completed 

1 "Aurora," English translation, 1764, p. 237. 

3 A. E. Waite, " Strange Houses of Sleep," p. 211. 

3 Dionysius the Areopagite, " De Mystica Theologia," i. 3. 

4 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. 10. 

s "Mystische Schriften," p. 137. 6 Plotinus, Ennead vi. 9. 



112 AN INTRODUCTION OF MYSTICISM 

life, which we have found to be a constant characteristic of 
human consciousness. It is largely prosecuted by that " spiritual 
spark," that transcendental faculty which, though the life of our 
life, remains below the threshold in ordinary men. Emerging 
from its hiddenness in the mystic, it gradually becomes the 
dominant factor in his life ; subduing to its service, and 
enhancing by its saving contact with reality, those vital powers 
of love and will which we attribute to the heart ; rather than 
those of mere reason and perception, which we attribute to the 
head. Under the spur of this love and will, the whole person- 
ality rises in the acts of contemplation and ecstasy to a level of 
consciousness at which it becomes aware of a new field of 
perception. By this awareness, by this " loving sight," it is 
stimulated to a new life in accordance with the Reality which it 
has beheld. So strange and exalted is this life, that it never 
fails to provoke either the anger or the admiration of other men. 
" If the great Christian mystics," says Leuba, "could by some 
miracle be all brought together in the same place, each in his 
habitual environment, there to live according to his manner, the 
world would soon perceive that they constitute one of the most 
amazing and profound variations of which the human race has 
yet been witness." z 

A discussion of mysticism as a whole will therefore include 
two branches. First the life process of the mystic : the re- 
making of his personality ; the method by which his peculiar 
consciousness of the Absolute is attained, and faculties which 
have been evolved to meet the requirements of the phenomenal, 
are enabled to do work on the transcendental, plane. This is 
the " Mystic Way " in which the self passes through the states 
or stages of development which were codified by the Neo- 
platonists, and after them by the mediaeval mystics, as Purgation, 
Illumination, and Ecstasy. Secondly, the content of the mystical 
field of perception ; the revelation under which the contem- 
plative becomes aware of the Absolute. This will include a 
consideration of the so-called doctrines of mysticism : the 
attempts of the articulate mystic to sketch for us the world into 
which he has looked, in language which is only adequate to the 
world in which the rest of us dwell. Here the difficult question 
of symbolism, and of symbolic theology comes in : a point upon 

1 Op. cit. 




THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM 113 



which many promising expositions of the mystics have been 
wrecked. It will be our business to strip off as far as may 
be the symbolic wrapping, and attempt a synthesis of these 
doctrines ; to resolve the apparent contradictions of objective 
and subjective revelations, of the ways of negation and affirma- 
tion, emanation and immanence, surrender and deification, the 
Divine Dark and the Inward Light ; and finally to exhibit, if 
we can, the essential unity of that experience in which the 
human soul enters consciously into the Presence of God. 



CHAPTER V 

MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 

Mystic diagrams — Theology as used by the Mystics — Their conception ot God — 
Emanatio and Immanence — Emanation discussed — Dante — the Kabalists — Aquinas 
— Its psychological aspect — Immanence discussed — the basis of introversion — The 
"ground" of soul and universe — Emanation and Immanence compared — both 
accepted by the Mystics — Objections to this answered — Emanation and the Mystic 
Way — Its reconciliation with Immanence — Both describe experience — are expressions 
of temperament — Mystical theology must include both — Theology is the Mystic's 
map — Sometimes but not always adequate — Christianity the best of such maps — 
It combines the metaphysical and personal aspects of the Divine — reconciles 
Emanation and Immanence — provides a congenial atmosphere for the Mystic — 
explains his adventures — All Western mystics implicitly Christian — Blake — The 
dogma of the Trinity — Division of Persons essential to the description of God — The 
indwelling and transcendent aspects of the Divine— St. Teresa — her vision of the 
Trinity — Father, Word, Holy Spirit — Threefold division of Reality — Neoplatonic 
trinities — Lady Julian on the Trinity — Its psychological justification — Goodness, 
Truth, and Beauty — Trinitarian doctrine and the Mystics — Light, Life, Love — The 
Incarnation — its mystic aspect — The Repairer — The Drama of Faith — The Eternal 
Birth of the Son — The New Birth in Man — Regeneration — Conclusion 

IN the last chapter we tried to establish a distinction between 
the mystic who tastes supreme experience and the mystical 
philosopher who cogitates upon the data so obtained. We 
have now, however, to take account of the fact that the true 
mystic is also very often a mystical philosopher ; though there 
are plenty of mystical philosophers who are not and could 
never be mystics. 

Because it is characteristic of the human self to reflect upon 
its experience, to use its percepts as material for the construction 
of a concept, most mystics have made or accepted a theory of 
their own adventures. Thus we have a mystical philosophy or 
theology — the comment of the intellect on the proceedings of 
spiritual intuition — running side by side with true or empirical 
mysticism : classifying its data, criticizing it, explaining it, and 

"4 




MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 115 

translating its vision of the supersensible into symbols which 
are amenable to dialectic. 

Such a philosophy is most usually founded upon the formal 
creed which the individual mystic accepts. It is characteristic 
of him that in so far as his transcendental activities are healthy 
he is generally an acceptor and not a rejector of such creeds. 
The view which regards the mystic as a spiritual anarchist 
receives little support from history ; * which shows us, over and 
over again, the great mystics as faithful sons of the great 
religions. Almost any religious system which fosters un- 
earthly love is potentially a nursery for mystics : and Chris- 
tianity, Islam, Brahmanism, and Buddhism each receives its 
most sublime interpretation at their hands. 

Thus St. Teresa interprets her ecstatic apprehension of the 
Godhead in strictly Catholic terms. Thus Boehme believed to 
the last that his explorations of eternity were consistent with 
the teaching of the Lutheran Church. Thus the Sufis were 
good Mohammedans, Philo and the Kabalists were orthodox 
Jews. Thus Plotinus even adapted — though with what difficulty ! 
— the relics of paganism to his doctrine of the Real. 

Attempts, however, to limit mystical truth — the direct 
apprehension of the Divine Substance — to the formulae of any 
one religion, are as futile as the attempt to identify a precious 
metal with the die which converts it into current coin. The 
dies which the mystics have used are many. Their peculiarities 
and excrescences are always interesting and sometimes highly 
significant. Some give a far sharper, more coherent, impression 
than others. But the gold from which this diverse coinage is 
struck is always the same precious metal : always the same 
Beatific Vision of a Goodness, Truth, and Beauty which 
is one. Hence its substance must always be distinguished 
from the accidents under which we perceive it : for this substance 
has a cosmic, and not a denominational, importance. 

If, however, we are to understand the language of the 
mystics, it is evident that we must know a little of accident 
as well as of substance : that is to say, of the principal philo- 
sophies or religions which they have used in describing their 
adventures to the world. This being so, before we venture to 

1 Di. Rufus Jones ("Studies in Mystical Religion") is at present the most 
eminent upholder of this opinion. 



116 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

apply ourselves to the exploration of theology proper, it will be 
well to consider the two extreme forms under which both 
mystics and theologians have been accustomed to conceive 
Divine Reality: that is to say, the so-called "emanation- theory" 
and "immanence-theory" of the transcendental world. 

Emanation and Immanence are formidable words ; which, 
though perpetually tossed to and fro by amateurs of religious 
philosophy, have probably, as they stand, little actuality for 
practical modern men. They are, however, root-ideas for the 
maker of mystical diagrams : and his best systems are but 
attempts towards their reconciliation. Since the aim of every 
mystic is union with God, it is obvious that the vital question 
in his philosophy must be the place which this God, the Absolute 
of his quest, occupies in the scheme. Briefly, He has been 
conceived — or, it were better to say, presented — by the great 
mystics under two apparently contradictory modes. 

(i) The opinion which is represented in its most extreme 
form bf the above-mentioned Theory of Emanations, declares 
His utter transcendence. This view appears early in the history 
of Greek philosophy. It is developed by Dionysius, by the 
Kabalists, by Dante : and is implied in the language of Rulman 
Merswin and many other Christian ecstatics. 

The solar system is an almost perfect symbol of this concept 
of the universe ; which finds at once its most rigid and most 
beautiful expression in Dante's " Paradiso." l The Absolute 
Godhead is conceived as removed by a vast distance from the 
material world of sense ; the last or lowest of that system of 
dependent worlds or states which, generated by or emanating 
from the Unity or Central Sun, become less in spirituality and 
splendour, greater in multiplicity* the further they recede from 
their source. That Source — the Great Countenance of the 
Absolute — can never, say the Kabalists, be discerned by man. 
It is the Unplumbed Abyss of later mysticism : the Cloud 
of Unknowing wraps it from our sight. Only by its " emana- 
tions " or manifested attributes can we attain knowledge of it. 

1 ' ' La gloria di colui che tutto move 

per l'universo penetra, e resplende 

in una parte piu e meno altrove " (Par. i. 1-3). 

The theological ground-plan of the Cantica is epitomized in this introductory 
verse 



i 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 117 

By the outflow of these same manifested attributes and 
powers the created universe exists, depending in the last resort 
on the latens deltas : Who is therefore conceived as external to 
the world which He illuminates and vivifies. 

St. Thomas Aquinas virtually accepts the doctrine of 
Emanations when he writes : x "As all the perfections of 
Creatures descend in order from God, who is the height of 
perfection, man should begin from the lower creatures and 
ascend by degrees, and so advance to the knowledge of God. . . . 
And because in that roof and crown of all things, God, we find 
the most perfect unity ; and everything is stronger and more 
excellent the more thoroughly it is one ; it follows that diversity 
and variety increase in things, the further they are removed 
from Him who is the first principle of all." Suso, whose mystical 
system, like that of most Dominicans, is entirely consistent with 
Thomist philosophy, is really glossing Aquinas when he writes : 
" The supreme and superessential Spirit has ennobled man by 
illuminating him with a ray from the Eternal Godhead. . . . 
Hence from out the great ring which represents the Eternal 
Godhead there flow forth . . . little rings, which may be taken 
to signify the high nobility of natural creatures." 2 

Obviously if this theory of the Absolute be accepted the 
path of the soul's ascent to union with the divine must be 
literally a transcendence : a journey " upward and outward," 
through a long series of intermediate states or worlds till, having 
traversed the " Thirty-two paths of the Tree of Life/' she at last 
arrives, in Kabalistic language, at the Crown : fruitive knowledge 
of God, the Abyss or Divine Dark of the Dionysian school, 
the Neoplatonic One. Such a series of worlds is symbo- 
lized by the Ten Heavens of Dante, the hierarchies of 
Dionysius, the Tree of Life or Sephiroth of the Kabalah : and 
receives its countersign in the inward experience, in the long 
journey of the self through Purgation and Illumination to 
Union. " We ascend," says St. Augustine, " thy ways that be 
in our heart, and sing a song of degrees ; we glow inwardly 
with thy fire, with thy good fire, and we go, because we go 
upwards to the peace of Jerusalem." 3 

This theory postulates, under normal and non-mystical con- 



Z <( 



Summa Contra Gentiles," 1. iv. cap. i. (Rickaby's translation). 
Leben, cap. lvi. 3 Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. xi. 



118 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

ditions, the complete separation of the human and the divine ; 
the temporal and the eternal worlds. Hence the language of 
pilgrimage, of exile, of a world which has fallen from perfection 
into illusion and must make a long and painful return, comes 
naturally to the mystic who apprehends reality under these 
terms. To him the mystical adventure is essentially a " going 
forth" from his normal self and from his normal universe. 
Like the Psalmist " in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by 
steps in this vale of tears " from the less to the more divine. 
He, and with him the Cosmos — for we must never forget that 
to mystical philosophy the soul of the individual subject is the 
microcosm of the soul of the world — has got to retrace the long 
road to the Perfection from which it originally came forth ; as 
the fish in Rulman Merswin's Vision of Nine Rocks must 
struggle upwards from pool to pool until they reach their 
Origin. 

Such a way of conceiving Reality accords with the type of 
mind which William James has denominated the " sick soul." * 
It is the mood of the contrite, of the penitent, of the utter 
humility which, appalled by the sharp contrast between itself 
and the Perfect which it contemplates, can only cry " out of the 
depths." It comes naturally to the kind of temperament which 
leans to pessimism, which sees a " great gulf fixed " between 
itself and its desire, and is above all things sensitive to the 
elements of evil and imperfection in its own character and in 
the normal experience of man. Permitting these elements to 
dominate its field of consciousness, wholly ignoring the divine 
aspect of the World of Becoming, such a temperament con- 
structs from its perceptions and prejudices the concept of a 
material world and a normal self which is very far from God. 

(2) Immanence. At the opposite pole from this way of 
sketching Reality is the extreme theory of Immanence, so 
fashionable amongst liberal theologians at the present time. 
To the holders of this theory, who belong of necessity to Pro- 
fessor James's " healthy minded " or optimistic class, the quest of 
the Absolute is no long journey, but a realization of something 
which is implicit in the self and in the universe : an opening of 
the eyes of the soul upon the Reality in which it is bathed. 
For them earth is literally " crammed with heaven." " Thou 
1 " Varieties of Religious Experience," Lecture vi. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 119 

wert I, but dark was my heart, I knew not the secret tran- 
scendent," says Tewekkul Beg, a Moslem mystic of the seven- 
teenth century. 1 This is always the cry of the temperament 
which leans to a theology of immanence, once its eyes are 
opened on the light. " God," says Plotinus, " is not external to 
anyone, but is present with all things, though they are ignorant 
that He is so." 3 In other and older words, " The spirit of God 
is within you." The Absolute Whom all seek does not hold 
Himself aloof from an imperfect material universe, but dwells 
within the flux of things : stands as it were at the very thres- 
hold of consciousness and knocks, awaiting the selfs slow dis- 
covery of her treasures. " He is not far from any one of us, for 
in Him we live and move and have our being," is the pure 
doctrine of Immanence : a doctrine whose teachers are drawn 
from amongst the souls which react more easily to the touch of 
the Divine than to the sense of alienation and of sin, and are 
naturally inclined to love rather than to awe. The truth that 
" God and man initially meet where man is most inward " 3 — i.e. y 
in the spark or ground of the soul — is the cardinal fact in their 
experience of the transcendental world. 

Unless safeguarded by limiting dogmas, the theory of 
Immanence, taken alone, is notoriously apt to degenerate into 
pantheism ; and into those extravagant perversions of the 
doctrine of " deification " in which the mystic holds his trans- 
figured self to be identical with the Indwelling God. It is the 
philosophical basis of that practice of introversion, the turning 
inwards of the soul's faculties in contemplation, which has been 
the " method '' of the great practical mystics of all creeds. That 
God, since He is in all — in a sense, is all — may most easily be 
found within ourselves, is the doctrine of these adventurers ; 4 
who, denying or ignoring the existence of those intervening 
" worlds " or " planes " between the material world and the 
Absolute, which are postulated by the theory of Emanations, 
claim with Ruysbroeck that "by a simple introspection in 

x Quoted by W. L. Lilly, " Many Mansions," p. 140. 

3 Ennead vi. 9. 

s Boyce Gibson, " Rudolph Eucken's Philosophy," p. 104. 

4 Thus Aquinas says, "Since God is the universal cause of all Being, in whatever 
region Being can be found, there must be the Divine Presence " (" Summa Contra 
Gentiles," 1. iii. cap. lxviii.). And we have seen that the whole claim of the mystics 
ultimately depends on man's possession of pure being in *' the spark of the soul." 



120 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

fruitive love * they " meet God without intermediary." * They 
hear the Father of Lights "saying eternally, without inter- 
mediary or interruption, in the most secret part of the spirit, 
the one unique, and abysmal Word." 2 

This "divine" essence, or substance, which the introversive 
mystic finds dwelling, as Ruysbroeck says, at the apex of man's 
spirit, is the " spark of the soul " of Eckhart, the " ground " of 
Tauler, the Inward Light of the Quakers, the "Divine Principle" 
of some modern transcendentalists ; the fount and source of all 
true life. At this point words and definitions fail mystic and 
theologian alike. A tangle of metaphors takes their place. 
He is face to face with the " wonder of wonders " — that most 
real of all experiences, the union of human and divine, in a 
nameless something which is " great enough to be God, small 
enough to be me." Hence at one moment the spark of the 
soul is presented to us as the divine to which the self attains : 
at another, as that transcendental aspect of the self which is in 
contact with God. On either hypothesis it is that in which 
the mystic encounters Absolute Being: and constitutes his 
guarantee of God's immediate presence in the human heart ; 
and, if in the human heart, then in that universe of which man's 
soul resumes in miniature the essential characteristics. 

According to the doctrine of Immanence, creation, the 
universe, could we see it as it is, would be perceived as the self- 
development, the self-unfolding of this indwelling Deity. The 
world is not projected from the Absolute, but rather enshrines 
It. " I understood," says St. Teresa, " how our Lord was in 
all things, and how He was in the soul : and the illustration of 
a sponge filled with water was suggested to me." 3 The world- 
process then, is the slow coming to fruition of that Divine Spark 
which is latent alike in the Cosmos and in man. " If," says 
Boehme, " thou conceivest a small minute circle, as small as a 
grain of mustard seed, yet the Heart of God is wholly and per- 
fectly therein : and if thou art born in God, then there is in thy- 

1 " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. ii. cap. lxxi. 

9 Op. cit., 1. iii. cap. i. 

3 Relaccion, ix. 10. But this image of a sponge, which also suggested itseh to 
St. Augustine, proved an occasion of stumbling to his more metaphysical mind : tend- 
ing to confuse his idea of the nature of God with the category of space. Vide Aug. 
Conf., bk. vii. cap. v. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 121 

self (in the circle of thy life) the whole Heart of God undivided." 1 
The idea of Immanence has seldom been more beautifully 
expressed. 

It is worth noticing that both the theological theories of 
reality which have been acceptable to the mystics implicitly 
declare, as modern science does, that the universe is not static 
hut dynamic : a World of Becoming. According to the doctrine 
of Immanence this universe is free, self-creative. The Divine 
nests within it : no part is more removed from the Godhead than 
any other part. " God," says Eckhart, " is nearer to me than I 
am to myself; He is just as near to wood and stone, but they 
do not know it." 2 

These two apparently contradictory explanations of the 
Invisible have both been held, and that in their extreme form, 
by the mystics : who have found in both adequate and indeed 
necessary diagrams by which to demonstrate their experience 
of Reality. 3 Some of the least lettered and most inspired 
amongst them — for instance, St. Catherine of Siena, Lady Julian 
of Norwich — and some of the most learned, as Dionysius the 
Areopagite and Meister Eckhart, have actually used in their 
rhapsodies language appropriate to both the theories of Emana- 
tion and of Immanence. It would seem, then, that both these 
theories must veil the truth ; and that it is the business of a sound 
mystical philosophy to reconcile them. It is too often forgotten 
by quarrelsome partisans of a concrete turn of mind that at best 
all these transcendental theories are only symbols, methods, 
^diagrams ; feebly attempting the representation of an experience - 
ji which is always the same, and whose dominant characteristic 
-4 is its inefTability. Hence they insist with tiresome monotony that 
Dionysius must be wrong if Tauler be right : that it is absurd 
to call yourself the Friend of God if unknowableness be that 
God's first attribute : that Plato's Perfect Beauty and Catherine 
of Siena's Accepter of Sacrifices cannot be the same : that the 
" courteous and dear-worthy Lord " who said to Lady Julian, 
" My darling, I am glad that thou art come to Me, in all thy 
wo I have ever been with thee," 4 rules out the formless and 

x "The Threefold Life of Man," cap. vi. § 71. 

a Eckhart, Pred. lxix. So too we read in the Oxyrhyncus Papyri, " Raise the 
stone and there thou shalt find Me. Cleave the wood and there am I." 

3 Compare above, cap. ii. * " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. xl. 



122 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

impersonal One of Plotinus, the "triple circle" of Suso and 
Dante. Finally, that if God be truly immanent in the material 
world, it is either sin or folly to refuse that world in order that 
we may find Him ; and if introversion be right, a plan of the 
universe which postulates intervening planes between Absolute 
Being and the phenomenal world must be wrong. 

Now as regards the mystics, of whom we hold both these 
doctrines, these ways of seeing truth — for what else is a doctrine 
but that? — it is well to remind ourselves that their teaching 
about the relation of the Absolute to the finite, of God to the 
phenomenal world, must be founded in the first instance on 
what they know by experience of the relation between that 
Absolute and the individual self. This experience is the valid 
part of mysticism, the thing which gives to it its unique import- 
ance amongst systems of thought, the only source of its 
knowledge. Everything else is really guessing aided by 
analogy. When therefore the mystic, applying to the 
universe what he knows to be true in respect of his own 
soul, describes Divine Perfection as very far removed 'from 
the material world, yet linked with it by a graduated series 
of " emanations " — states or qualities which have each of them 
something of the godlike though they be not God — he is trying 
to describe the necessary life-process which he has himself 
passed through in the course of his purgation and spiritual 
ascent from the state of the " natural man " to that other state 
of harmony with the spiritual universe, sometimes called 
"deification," in which he is able to contemplate, and unite 
with, the divine. We have in the " Divina Commedia " a classic 
example of such a two-fold vision of the inner and the outer 
worlds : for Dante's journey up and out to the Empyrean 
Heaven is really an inward alchemy, an ordering and trans- 
muting of his nature, a purging of his spiritual sight till — 
transcending all derived beatitude — it can look for an instant 
on the Being of God. 

The mystic assumes — because he always assumes an orderly 
basis for things — that there is a relation, an analogy, between this 
microcosm of man's self and the macrocosm of the world-self. 
Hence his experience, the geography of the individual quest, 
appears to him good evidence of the geography of the Invisible. 
Since he must transcend his natural life in order to attain con- 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 123 

seriousness of God, he conceives of God as essentially transcendent 
to the natural world. His description of that geography, however 
— of his path in a land where there is no time and space, no inner 
and no outer, up or down — will be conditioned by his tempera- 
ment, by his powers of observation, by the metaphor which 
comes most readily to his hand, above all by his theological 
education. The so-called journey itself is a psychological 
experience : the purging and preparation of the self, its 
movement to higher levels of consciousness, its unification 
with that more spiritual but normally subconscious self which 
is in touch with the transcendental order, and its gradual or 
abrupt entrance into union with the Real. Sometimes it 
seems to the self that this performance is a retreat inwards 
to that " ground of the soul " where, as St. Teresa says, 
" His Majesty awaits us " : sometimes a going forth from the 
Conditioned to the Unconditioned, the "supernatural flight" 
of Plotinus and Dionysius the Areopagite. Both are but images 
under which the self conceives the process of attaining con- 
scious union with that God who is "at once immanent and 
transcendent in relation to the soul which shares His Life." « 

He has go* to find God. The quest is long; the end 
amazing. Sometimes his temperament causes him to lay 
most stress on the length of the search ; sometimes the abrupt 
rapture which brings it to a close makes him forget that 
preliminary pilgrimage in which the soul is "not outward 
bound, but rather on a journey to its centre." The Habitations 
of the Interior Castle through which St. Teresa conducts the 
ardent disciple to that hidden chamber which is the sanctuary 
of the indwelling God : the hierarchies of Dionysius, ascending 
from the selfless service of the angels, past the seraphs' burning 
love to the God enthroned above time and space : the mystical 
paths of the Kabalistic Tree of Life, which lead from the 
material world of Malkuth through the universes of action and 
thought, by Mercy, Justice and Beauty to the Supernal 
Crown ; 2 all these are different ways of seeing this same 
pilgrimage. 

As every one is born a disciple of either Plato or 
Aristotle, so every human soul leans to one of these two 

1 Boyce Gibson, " God with Us," p. 24. 

a See A. E. Waite, "The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah," pp. 36-53. 



124 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

ways of apprehending reality. The artist, the poet, every 
one who looks with awe and rapture on created things, 
acknowledges in this act the Immanent God. The ascetic, 
and that intellectual ascetic the metaphysician, turning from 
the created, denying the senses in order to find afar off the 
Uncreated, Unconditioned Source, is really — though often he 
knows it not — obeying that psychological law which produced 
the doctrine of Emanations. 

A good map then, a good mystical philosophy, will leave 
room for both these ways of interpreting experience. It will 
mark the routes by which many different temperaments claim 
to have found their way to the same end. It will acknowledge 
both the aspects under which the patria splendida Truth has 
appeared to its lovers : the aspects which have called forth the 
theories of emanation and immanence and are enshrined in 
the Greek and Latin names of God. Deus, whose root means 
day, shining, the Transcendent Light ; and Theos, whose true 
meaning is supreme desire or prayer — the Inward Love — do 
not contradict, but complete each other. They form, when 
taken together, an almost perfect definition of that Absolute 
which is the object of the mystic's desire : the Divine Love 
which, being born in the soul, spurs on that soul to union with 
the transcendent and Absolute Light which is at once the 
source, the goal, the life of created things. 

The true mystic — the person with a genius for God — hardly 
needs a map himself. He steers a compass course across the 
" vast and stormy sea of the divine." It is characteristic of his 
intellectual humility, however, that he is always willing to use 
the map of the community in which he finds himself, when it 
comes to showing other people the route which he has pursued. 
Sometimes these maps have been adequate. More, they have 
elucidated the obscure wanderings of the explorer ; helped him ; 
given him landmarks ; worked out right. Time after time he 
puts his finger on some spot — some great hill of vision, some 
city of the soul — and says with conviction, " Here have I been." 
At other times the maps have embarrassed him, have refused to 
fit in with his description. Then he has tried, as Boehme did 
and after him Blake, to make new ones. Such maps are often 
wild in drawing, because good draughtsmanship does not neces- 
sarily go with a talent for exploration. Departing from the 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 125 

usual convention, they are hard — sometimes impossible — to 
understand. As a result, the orthodox have been forced to 
regard their makers as madmen or heretics : when they were 
really only practical men struggling to disclose great matters by 
imperfect means. 

Now, without prejudice to individual beliefs and without 
offering an opinion as to the exclusive truth of any one religious 
system or revelation — for here we are concerned neither with 
controversy nor with apologetics — we are bound to allow as a 
historical fact that mysticism, so far, has found its best map 
in Christianity. Christian philosophy, especially that Neo- \ 
platonic theology which, taking up and harmonizing all that 
was best in the spiritual intuitions of Greece, India and Egypt, 
was developed by the great doctors of the early and mediaeval 
Church, supports and elucidates the revelations of the indi- 
vidual mystic as no other system of thought has been able to do. 

We owe to the great fathers of the first five centuries — to 
Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and 
Augustine ; above all to Dionysius the Areopagite, the great 
Christian contemporary of Proclus — the preservation of that 
mighty system of scaffolding which enabled the Catholic mystics 
to build up the towers and bulwarks of the City of God. The 
peculiar virtue of this Christian philosophy, that which marks 
its superiority to the more coldly self-consistent systems of 
Greece, is the fact that it re-states the truths of metaphysics 
in terms of personality: thus offering a third term, a "living 
mediator" between the Unknowable God, the unconditioned 
Absolute, and the conditioned self. This was the priceless gift 
which the Wise Men received in return for their gold, frankin- 
cense, and myrrh. This solves the puzzle which all explorers 
of the supersensible have sooner or later to face : come si 
convenne l' imago al cerchio* the reconciliation of Infinite and 
intimate, both known and felt, but neither understood. Such 
a third term, such a stepping-stone, was essential if mysticism 
were ever to attain that active union, that fullness of life which 
is its object, and develop from a blind and egoistic rapture into 
fruitful and self- forgetting love. 

Where non-Christian mystics, as a rule, have made a forced 
choice between the two great dogmatic expressions of their 

1 Par. xxxiii. 137. 



126 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

experience, (a) the long pilgrimage towards a transcendent and 
unconditioned Absolute, (3) the discovery of that Absolute in the 
" ground" or spiritual principle of the self; it has been possible 
to Christianity, by means of her central doctrine of the Trinity, 
to find room for both of them and to exhibit them as that 
which they are in fact — the complementary parts of a whole. 
Even Dionysius, the godfather of the emanation doctrine, com- 
bines with his scheme of descending hierarchies the dogma of 
an indwelling God: and no writer is more constantly quoted by 
Meister Eckhart, who is generally considered to have preached 
Immanence in its most extreme and pantheistic form. 

Further, the Christian atmosphere is the one in which the 
individual mystic has most often been able to develop his 
genius in a sane and fruitful way ; and an overwhelming 
majority of the great European contemplatives have been 
Christians of a strong, impassioned and personal type. This 
alone would justify us in regarding it as representing, at any 
rate in the West, the formal side of the true tradition : the 
" path of least resistance " through which that tradition flows. 
In many cases the very heretics of Christianity have owed 
their greatness almost wholly to their mystical qualities. The 
Gnostics, the Fraticelli, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the 
Quietists, the Quakers, are instances of this. In others, it was 
to an excessive reliance on reason when dealing with the supra- 
rational, and a corresponding absence of trust in mystical 
intuition that heresy was due. Arius and Pelagius are 
heretics of this type. 

The greatest mystics, however, have not been heretics but 
Catholic saints. In Christianity the " natural mysticism " which, 
like " natural religion," is latent in humanity, and at a certain 
point of development breaks out in every race, came to itself; 
and attributing for the first time true and distinct personality 
to its Object, brought into focus the confused and unconditioned 
God which Neoplatonism had constructed from the abstract 
concepts of philosophy blended with the intuitions of Indian 
ecstatics, and made the basis of its meditations on the Real. 
It is a truism that the real claim of Christian philosophy on 
our respect does not lie in its exclusiveness but in its Catho- 
licity : in the fact that it finds truth in a hundred different 
systems, accepts and elucidates Greek, Jewish and Indian 






MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 127 

thought, fuses them in a coherent theology, and says to 
speculative thinkers of every time and place, " Whom there- 
fore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." 

The voice of Truth, which spoke once for all on Calvary 
and there declared the ground plan of the universe, was heard 
more or less perfectly by all the great seers, the intuitive 
leaders of men, the possessors of genius for the Real. There 
are few of the Christian names of God which were not known 
to the teachers of antiquity. To the Egyptians He was the 
Saviour, to the Platonists the Good, Beautiful and True, to 
the Stoics the Father and Companion. The very words of the 
Fourth Gospel are anticipated by Cleanthes. Heracleitus knew 
the Energizing Fire of which St. Bonaventura and Mechthild 
of Magdeburg speak. Countless mystics, from St. Augustine 
to St. John of the Cross, echo again and again the language 
of Plotinus. It is true that the differentia which mark off 
Christianity from all other religions are strange and poignant : 
but these very differentia make of it the most perfect of settings 
for the mystic life. Its note of close intimacy, of direct and 
personal contact with a spiritual reality given here and now — 
its astonishing combination of splendour and simplicity, of the 
sacramental and transcendent — all these things minister to the 
needs of the mystical type. 

Hence the Christian system, or some colourable imitation 
of it, has been found essential by almost all the great mystics 
of the West. They adopt its nomenclature, explain their adven- 
tures by the help of its creed, identify their Absolute with the 
Christian God. Amongst European mystics the most usually 
quoted exception to this rule is Blake ; yet it is curious to 
notice that the more inspired his utterance, the more pas- 
sionately and dogmatically Christian even this hater of the 
Churches becomes : — 

" We behold 
Where Death eternal is put off eternally. O Lamb 
Assume the dark satanic body in the Virgin's womb ! 
O Lamb divine ! it cannot thee annoy ! O pitying One, 
Thy pity is from the foundation of the world, and thy Redemption 
Begins already in Eternity." 1 

This is the doctrine of the Incarnation in a nutshell : here 

! "Vala," viii. 237. 



128 AN INTKODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

St. Thomas himself would find little to correct. Of the two 
following extracts from "Jerusalem," the first is but a poet's 
gloss on the Catholic's cry, " O felix culpa ! " the second is an 
almost perfect epitome of Christian theology and ethics : — 

•• If I were pure, never could I taste the sweets 
Of the forgiveness of sins. If I were holy, I never could behold the tears 
Of Love . . . O Mercy ! O divine Humanity ! 

O Forgiveness, O Pity and Compassion ! If I were pure I should never 
Have known Thee." 

" Wouldst thou love one who never died 
For thee, or ever die for one who had not died for thee? 
And if God dieth not for man, and giveth not Himself 
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist, for Man is Love 
As God is Love. Every kindness to another is a little death 
In the Divine Image, nor can Man exist but by brotherhood." 1 

What needs to be emphasized is this : that whether the 
dogmas of Christianity be or be not accepted on the scientific 
and historical plane, they are necessary to an adequate descrip- 
tion of mystical experience — at least, of the fully developed 
dynamic mysticism of the West. We must therefore be pre- 
pared in reading the works of the contemplatives for much 
strictly denominational language ; and shall be wise if we 
preface the encounter by some consideration of this language, 
and of its real meaning for those who use and believe it. 

No one needs, I suppose, to be told that the two chief 
features of Christian schematic theology are the dogmas of 
the Trinity and the Incarnation. They correlate and explain 
each other : forming together, for the Christian, the " final key " 
to the riddle of the world. The history of practical Chris- 
tianity is the history of the attempt to exhibit their meaning 
in space and time. The history of mystical philosophy is the 
history — still incomplete — of the demonstration of their meaning 
in eternity. 
y Some form of Trinitarian dogma is found to be essential, 
as a method of describing observed facts, the moment that 
mysticism begins either {a) to analyse its own psychological 
conditions, or (J?) to philosophize upon its intuitions of the 
Absolute. It must, that is to say, divide the aspects under 

* "Terusalem," lxi. 44 and xcv. 23. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 129 

which it knows the Godhead, if it is to deal with them in a 
fruitful or comprehensible way. The Unconditioned One, 
which is, for Neoplatonist and Catholic alike, the final 
object of the mystic quest, cannot of itself satisfy the deepest 
instincts of humanity : for man is aware that diversity in unity 
is a necessary condition if perfection of character is to be 
expressed. Though the idea of unity alone may serve to 
define the End — and though the mystics return to it again 
and again as a relief from that "heresy of multiplicity" by 
which they are oppressed — it cannot by itself be adequate 
to the description of the All. 

The first question, then, must be — How many of such 
aspects are necessary to the complete presentment of the 
mystic's position? How many faces of Reality does he see? 
At the very least, as we have already seen, he must be aware 
of two aspects : (a) that Holy Spirit within, that Divine Life by 
which his own life is transfused and upheld, and of which he 
becomes increasingly conscious as his education proceeds ; 
(b) that Transcendent Spirit without, the " Absolute," towards 
union with which the indwelling and increasingly dominant 
spirit of love pushes the developing soul. It is the function 
of ecstasy to fuse these two aspects of God — to bring back, 
in mystical language, the Lover to the Beloved — but it is no 
less the function of mystical philosophy to separate them. 
Over and over again the mystics and their critics acknowledge, 
explicitly or implicitly, the necessity of this act. 

Thus even the rigid monotheism of Israel and Islam cannot, 
in the hands of the Kabalists and the Sufis, get away from an 
essential dualism in the mystical experience. According to the 
Zohar, says Mr. A. E. Waite, its best modern student, "God is 
considered as immanent in all that has been created or eman- 
ated, and yet is transcendent to all." 1 So too the Sufis. God, 
they say, is to be contemplated {a) outwardly in the imperfect 
beauties of the earth ; (b) inwardly, by meditation. Further, 
since He is One, and in all things, " to conceive one's self as 
separate from God is an error : yet only when one sees oneself as 
separate from God, can one reach out to God" 2 

Thus Delacroix, speaking purely as a psychologist, and 

1 A. E. Waite, "The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah," p. 35. 
a Palmer, " Oriental Mysticism," pt. i. cap. i. 

I 



130 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

denying to the mystical revelation — which he attributes ex- 
clusively to the normal content of the subliminal mind — any 
transcendental value, writes with entire approval of St. Teresa, 
that she " set up externally to herself the definite God of the 
Bible, at the same time as she set up within her soul the 
confused God of the Pseudo-Areopagite : the One of Neo- 
platonism. The first is her guarantee of the orthodoxy of the 
second, and prevents her from losing herself in an indistinction 
which is non-Christian. The confused God within is highly 
dangerous. ... St. Teresa knew how to avoid this peril, and, 
served by her rich subconscious life, by the exaltation of her 
mental images, by her faculty of self-division on the one hand, 
on the other by her rare powers of unification, she realized 
simultaneously a double state in which the two Gods [i.e., the 
two ways of apprehending God, transcendence and immanence] 
were, guarantees of each other, mutually consolidating and 
enriching one another : such is the intellectual vision of the 
Trinity in the Seventh Habitation." 1 

It is probable that St. Teresa, confronted by this astonishing 
analysis, would have objected that her Trinity, unlike that of her 
eulogist, consisted of three and not two Persons. His language 
concerning confused interior and orthodox exterior Gods would 
certainly have appeared to her delicate and honest mind both 
clumsy and untrue : nor could she have allowed that the 
Unconditioned One of the Neoplatonists was an adequate 
description of- the strictly personal Divine Majesty Whom she 
found enthroned in the inmost sanctuary of the Castle of the 
Soul. 

What St. Teresa really did was to actualize in her own 
experience, apprehend in the "ground of her soul" by means 
of her extraordinarily developed transcendental perceptions, 
the three distinct and personal Aspects of the Godhead which 
are acknowledged by the Christian religion. 

First, the Father, pure transcendent Being, creative Source 
and Origin of all that Is : the Unconditioned and Unknowable 
One of the Neoplatonist : Who is to be conceived, pace M. 
Delacroix, as utterly transcendent to the subject rather than 
"set up within the soul." 

1 Delacroix, "Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 75. The reference in the last sentence 
is to St. Teresa's " Castillo Interior." 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 131 

Secondly, in the Person of Christ, Teresa isolated and 
distinguished the Logos or Creative Word, the expression, 
outbirth, or manifestation of the Father's thought. Here is 
the point at which the Divine Substance first becomes appre- 
hensible by the spirit of man ; here that mediating principle 
" raised up between heaven and earth " which is at once the 
Mirror of Pure Being and the Light of a finite world. The 
Second Person of the Christian Trinity is for the believer not 
only the brightness or manifestation of Deity, but also the 
personal, inexhaustible, and responsive Fount of all life and 
Object of all love : Who, because of His taking up (in the 
Incarnation) of humanity into the Godhead, is of necessity 
the one and only Bridge between the finite and infinite, 
between the individual and the Absolute Life, and hence in 
mystic language the " true Bridegroom " of every human soul. 

Thirdly, she recognized within herself the germ of that 
Absolute Life, the indwelling Spirit which is the source of 
man's transcendental consciousness and his link with the Being 
of God. That is to say, the Holy Spirit of Divine Love, the 
Real Desirous seeking for the Real Desired, without Whose 
presence any knowledge of or communion with God on man's 
part would be inconceivable. 

In the supreme Vision of the Trinity which was vouchsafed 
to St Teresa in the Seventh Habitation of the soul, these 
three aspects became fused in One. In the deepest recesses 
of her spirit, in that unplumbed abyss where selfhood ceases 
to have meaning, and the individual soul touches the life of 
the All, distinction vanished and she "saw God in a point" 
Such an experience, such an intuition of simple and undifferenti- 
ated Godhead — the Unity — beyond those three centres of Divine 
Consciousness which we call the Trinity of Persons, is highly 
characteristic of mysticism. The German mystics — tempera- 
mentally miles asunder from Teresa — described it as the 
attainment of the " still wilderness " or u lonely desert of 
Deity " : the limitless Divine Abyss, impersonal, , indescribable, 
for ever hid in the Cloud of Unknowing, and yet the true 
Country of the Soul. 1 

1 See Tauler, Sermon on St. John Baptist, and Third Instruction ( u The Inner 
Way," pp. 97 and 321) ; Suso, "Buchlein von der Wahrheit," cap. v. ; Ruysbroeck, 
"L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. iii. caps ii. and vi. 



132 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

These propositions, which appear when thus laid down to 
be hopelessly academic, violently divorced from life, were not 
for St. Teresa or any other Christian mystic propositions at all ; 
but attempts towards the description of first-hand experience. 
" How this vision comes to pass," she says, " I know not ; but 
it does come to pass, and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity 
then show themselves to the soul with a radiance as of fire, 
which, like a shining cloud, first invades the mind and admirably 
illuminates it. Then she sees those three distinct Persons, and 
she knows with a sovereign truth that these three are One in 
substance, One in Power, One in wisdom, One God: so that 
those things which we know in this world by faith, the soul, in 
this light, understands by a sort of vision which is neither the 
vision of the body nor that of the soul ; for it is not a sensible 
vision. There those three Persons communicate Themselves to 
the soul, and speak to her and ... it seems to her that these 
three divine Persons have never left her : she sees clearly, in the 
manner which I have described, that they are within her soul, 
in its most inward part, as it were within a deep abyss. This 
person, a stranger to learning, knows not how to tell what is 
this deep abyss, but it is there that she feels within herself this 
divine companionship." x 

Mystical writers remind us over and over again, that life as 
perceived by the human mind shows an inveterate tendency to 
arrange itself in triads : that if they proclaim the number Three 
in the heavens, they can also point to it as dominating every- 
where upon the earth. Here Christianity did but give form 
to the deepest instinct of the human mind : an instinct which 
made Pythagoras call Three the number' of God because 
beginning, middle, and end were contained therein. Thus to 
Hindu thought the Absolute Godhead was unknowable, but 
He disclosed three faces to man — Brahma the Creator, 
Shiva the Destroyer, Krishna the Repairer — and these three 
were One. So too the Neoplatonists, touched by the spirit 
of the East, distinguished three worlds ; the Sensible or 
Phenomenal, the Rational or Intellectual, the Intelligible or 
Spiritual ; and three aspects of God — the Unconditioned 
Absolute, the Logos or Artificer, and the divine Essence or 
Spirit which is both absolute and created. We have here, as 

1 St. Teresa, "El Castillo Interior," Moradas Setimas, cap. i. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 133 

it were, the first sketch of the Christian Trinity ; the dry 
bones awaiting the breath of more abundant life. Correspond- 
ing with this diagram of God's nature, they see also three 
grades of beauty; the Corporeal, the Spiritual, and the Divine. 

Man, that " thing of threes," of body, soul and spirit, follows 
in his path towards unity the Threefold Way : for " our soul," 
says Lady Julian, " is made-trinity like to the unmade blissful 
Trinity, known and loved from without beginning, and in the 
making oned to the Maker." * So too we have seen that 
the psychic self is most easily understood by a division into 
Emotion, Intellect, and Will. Even the separation of things 
into Subject and Object implies a third term, the relation 
between them, without which no thought can be complete. 
Therefore the very principle of analogy imposes upon man a 
Trinitarian definition of Reality as the one with which his 
mind is best able to cope. 2 It is easy for the hurried rationalist 
to demonstrate the absurdity of this circumstance, but he will 
find it a very different matter when it comes to disproving it. 

" I could wish," says St. Augustine, " that men would con- 
sider these three things that are in, themselves . . . To Be, To 
Know, and to Will. For I am, and I know, and I will ; I am 
knowing and willing, and I know myself to be and to will ; and 
I will to be and to know. In these three therefore let him who 
can, see how inseparable a life there is — even one life, one mind 
one essence : finally, how inseparable is the distinction, and yet 
a distinction. Surely a man hath it before him : let him look 
into himself and see and tell me. But when he discovers and 
can see anything of these, let him not think that he has dis- 
covered that which is above these Unchangeable : which Is 
unchangeably and Knows unchangeably and Wills un- 
changeably." 3 

In one of the best recorded instances of pure mystical 
vision, Julian of Norwich saw the Trinity of the Divine Nature 
shining in the phenomenal as well as in the spiritual world. 

x Julian of Norwich, " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lv. So St. Thomas says 
(" Summa Contra Gentiles," 1. iv. cap. xxvi), "A likeness of the Divine Trinity is 
observable in the human mind." 

2 "The three Persons of the Trinity," said John Scotus Erigena, "are less modes 
of the Divine Substance than modes under which our mind conceives the Divine 
Substance" — a stimulating statement ot dubious orthodoxy. 

3 Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. xi. 



134 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

" He showed me," she says, " a little thing, the quantity of an 
hazel nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a 
ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, 
and thought, What may this be ? And it was answered gener- 
ally thus : It is all that is made. ... In this Little Thing I saw 
three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is 
that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what 
is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, I 
cannot tell." 1 

Julian the anchoress, a simple and deeply human English- 
woman of middle age dwelling alone in her churchyard cell) 
with only a tiny window by which to see and hear the outer 
world, might well be called the poet of the Trinity : that 
austere and subtle dogma of which the mystics of the fourteenth 
century write with a passion which will be little understood by 
those who look upon it as " orthodoxy reduced to mathematics." 

That most lovable and poetic of visionaries, who seems in 
her Revelations of Love to dream before a Crucifix set up in 
flowery fields, treats this highly metaphysical doctrine with a 
homely intimacy and a vigorous originality which carry with 
them at any rate a conviction of her own direct and personal 
apprehension of the truth which she struggles to describe. " I 
beheld," she says of a vision which is closely parallel to that of 
St. Teresa in the "Seventh Habitation of the Soul," and far more 
lucidly if less splendidly expressed, "the working of all the 
blessed Trinity : in which beholding, I saw and understood 
these three properties : the property of the Fatherhood, the 
property of the Motherhood, and the property of the Lordhood, 
in one God. In our Father Almighty we have our keeping and 
our bliss as anent our natural Substance, 2 which is to us by our 
making, without beginning. And in the Second Person in wit 
and wisdom we have our keeping as anent our Sense-soul : our 
restoring and our saving ; for He is our Mother, Brother, and 
Saviour. And in our good Lord, the Holy Ghost, we have our 
rewarding and our meed-giving for our living and our travail, 
and endless overpassing of all that we desire, in His marvellous 
courtesy, of His high plenteous grace. For all our life is in 

1 Op. cit., cap. v. 

2 Substance is here, of course, to be understood in the scholastic sense, as the 
reality which underlies merely phenomenal existence. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 135 

three: in the first we have our Being, in the second we have 
our Increasing, and in the third we have our Fulfilling ; the first 
is Nature, the second is Mercy, and the third is Grace. 1 . . . 
The high Might of the Trinity is our Father, and the deep 
Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, and the great Love of 
the Trinity is our Lord : and all this we have in Nature and 
in our Substantial Making." 2 

Again, in a passage of exquisite tenderness, which comes 
after the fire and dark of Teresa like cooling waters to the soul : 
** As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother ; 
and that shewed He in all [her revelations] and especially in 
these sweet words where He saith : / it am. That is to say, 
/ it am, the Might and the Goodness of the Fatherhood ; I it am, 
the Wisdom of the Motherhood ; I it am, the Light and the Grace 
that is all blessed Love ; I it am, the Trinity, I it am, the Unity : 
I am the sovereign Goodness of all manner of things. I am that 
maketh thee to love: I am that maketh thee to long: I it am, the 
endless fulfilling of all true desires? 3 

So Christopher Hervey — 

"The whole world round is not enough to fill 
The heart's three corners, but it craveth still. 
Only the Trinity that made it can 
Suffice the vast triangled heart of Man." 4 

It is a fact that any attempt towards a definition of God 
which does not account for and acknowledge these three aspects 
is found in experience to be incomplete. They provide objec- 
tives for the heart, the intellect, and the will : for they offer to 
the Self material for its highest love, its deepest thought, its 
act of supreme volition. Under the familiar Platonic terms of 
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, they represent the divine source 
and end of Ethics, Science, and Art, the three supreme activities 

1 I.e., the Second Person 01 the Christian Trinity is the redemptive "fount ot 
mercy," the medium by which Grace, the free gift of transcendental life, reaches and 
vivifies human nature: "permeates it," in Eucken's words, "with the Infinite and 
Eternal" ("Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 181). 

2 "Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lviii. 

3 Op. cit., cap. lix. 

4 "The School of the Heart," Epigram x. This book, which is a free transla- 
tion of the " Scola Cordis " of Benedict Haeften (1635), is often, but wrongly, attributed 
to Francis Quarles. 



136 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of man. Thus the ideals of artist, student, and philanthropist, 
who all seek under different modes the same reality, are gathered 
up in the mystic's One ; as the pilgrimage of the three kings 
ended in the finding of one Star. 

"What is God?" says St. Bernard. "Length, breadth, 
height, and depth, ' What,' you say, ' you do after all profess 
to believe in the fourfold Godhead which was an abomination 
to you ? ' Not in the least. . . . God is designated One to suit 
our comprehension, not to describe His character. His character 
is capable of division, He Himself is not. The words are different, 
the paths are many, but one thing is signified ; the paths lead 
to one Person." x 

All possible ways of conceiving this One Person are found 
in the end to range themselves under three heads. He is " above 
all and through all and in you all," 2 said St. Paul, anticipating 
the Councils in a flash of mystic intuition, and giving to the 
infant Church the shortest and most perfect definition of its 
Triune God. Being, which is above all, manifests itself as 
Becoming; as the dynamic, omnipresent Word of Life. The 
Divine Love immanent in the heart and in the world comes 
forth from, and returns to, the Absolute One. Thus is com- 
pleted " the Eternal Circle from Goodness, through Goodness, to 
Goodness." 3 It is true that to these fundamental aspects of the 
perceived Godhead — that Being, Becoming, and Desire whereto 
the worlds keep time — the mystics have given many and various 
names ; for they have something of the freedom of true intimates 
in treating of the Reality which they love. In particular, those 
symbols of the Absolute which are drawn from the great and 
formless forces of the universe, rather than from the orthodox 
but necessarily anthropomorphic imagery of human relationship, 
have always appealed to them. Their intense apprehension of 
Spirit seems to find freer and more adequate expression in such 
terms, than in those in which the notion of space is involved or 
which are capable of suggesting a concrete picture to the mind. 
Though they know as well as the philosophers that "there must 
always be something symbolic in our way of expressing the 
spiritual life," since " that unfathomable infinite whose spiritual 
character is first recognized in our human experience, can never 
reveal itself fully and freely under the limitation of our earthly 

* « , DeConsideratione,"bk. v. cap. viii. 2 Ephesians iv. 6. 3 Compare p. 49. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 137 

existence " * ; yet they ever seek, like the artists they are, some 
new and vital image which is not yet part of the debased 
currency of popular religion, and conserves its original power of 
stinging the imagination to more vivid life. 

Thus " the Kingdom of Heaven," says Law, " stands in this 
threefold life, where three are one, because it is a manifestation 
of the Deity, which is Three and One ; the Father has His dis- 
tinct manifestation in the Fire, which is always generating the 
Light; the Son has His distinct manifestation in the' Light, 
which is always generated from the Fire ; the Holy Ghost has 
His manifestation in the Spirit, that always proceeds from both, 
and is always united with them. It is this eternal unbeginning 
Trinity in Unity of Fire, Light, and Spirit, that constitutes 
Eternal Nature, the Kingdom of Heaven, the heavenly Jeru- 
salem, the Divine Life, the Beatific Visibility, the majestic 
Glory and Presence of God. Through this Kingdom of Heaven, 
or Eternal Nature, is the invisible God, the incomprehensible 
Trinity, eternally breaking forth and manifesting itself in a 
boundless height and depth of blissful wonders, opening and 
displaying itself to all its creatures as in an infinite variation 
and endless multiplicity of its powers, beauties, joys, and 
glories." 2 

Perhaps an easier, better, more beautiful example of these 
abstract symbols of the Trinity than Law's Fire, Light, and 
Spirit is that of Light, Life, and Love : a threefold picture of 
the Real which is constantly dwelt upon and elaborated by the 
Christian mystics. Transcendent Light, intangible but un- 
escapeable, ever emanating Its splendour through the Universe : 
indwelling, unresting, and energizing Life : desirous and direc- 
tive Love — these are cardinal aspects of Reality to which they 
return again and again in their efforts to find words which will 
express the inexpressible truth. 

(a) LIGHT, ineffable and uncreated, the perfect symbol of 
pure undifferentiated Being : above the intellect, as St. Augus- 
tine reminds us, but known to him who loves.3 This Uncreated 

1 Eucken, "Der Sinn una Wert des Lebens," p. 131. 

8 "An Appeal to All who Doubt" (" Liberal and Mystical Writings of William 
Law," P- 54)- Law's symbols are here borrowed from the system of his master, 
Jacob Boehme. (See the " De Signatura Rerum" of Boehme, cap. xiv.) 

3 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x. 



138 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Light is the "deep yet dazzling darkness" of the Dionysian 
school, " dark from its surpassing brightness ... as the shining 
of the sun on his course is as darkness to weak eyes." 1 It is 
Hildegarde's lux vivens y Dante's somtna luce, wherein he saw 
multiplicity in unity, the ingathered leaves of all the universe 2 : 
the Eternal Father, or Fount of Things. " For well we know," 
says Ruysbroeck, " that the bosom of the Father is our ground 
and origin, wherein our life and being is begun." 3 

(J?) Life, the Son, hidden Steersman of the Universe, the 
Logos, Fire, or Cosmic soul of things. This out-birth or Con- 
cept of the Father's Mind, which He possesses within Himself, 
as Battista Vernazza was told in her ecstasy ,4 is that Word of 
Creation which, since It is alive and infinite, no formula can 
contain : the Word eternally " spoken " or generated by the 
Transcendent Light. " This is why," says Ruysbroeck again, 
" all that lives in the hidden unity of the Father lives also in 
the Son." s This life, then, is the flawless expression or 
character of the Father, Sapientia Patris. It is at once the 
personal and adorable Object of the mystic's adventure — his 
closest comrade and his beckoning star — and the inmost prin- 
ciple, the sustaining power, of a dynamic universe ; for that 
which intellect defines as the Logos or Cosmic Spirit, contem- 
plative love knows as Wonderful, Counsellor, and Prince of 
Peace. 

Since Christ, for the Christian philosopher, is Divine Life 
Itself — the drama of Christianity but expressing this fact and 
its implications " in a point " — it follows that His active spirit is 
to be discerned, not symbolically, but in the most veritable 
sense, in the ecstatic and abounding life of the world. In the 
rapturous vitality of the birds, in their splendid glancing flight : 
in the swelling of buds and the sacrificial beauty of the flowers : 
in the great and solemn rhythms of the sea — there is somewhat 
of Bethlehem in all these things, somewhat too of Calvary in 
their self-giving pains. It was this re-discovery of Nature's 
Christliness which Blake desired so passionately when he sang — 

1 Tauler, 3rd Instruction ("The Inner Way," p. 324). 

2 Par. xxxiii. 67, 85. 

3 "L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. iii. cap. v. 

* Von Htigel, "The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. i. p. 357. 
s Ruysbroeck, op. cit. y be. cit. 






MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 139 

" I will not cease from mental fight, 

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, 
Till we have built Jerusalem 

In England's green and pleasant land." 

Here then it is, on this remote and airy pinnacle of faith, at 
the utmost boundaries of human speech, that mystical theology 
suddenly shows herself — not as the puzzle-headed constructor 
of impossible creeds, but as accepting and transmuting to a 
more radiant life those two profound but apparently contra- 
dictory metaphysical definitions of Reality which we have 
already discussed. 1 Eternal Becoming, God immanent and 
dynamic, striving with and in His world : the unresting " flux 
of things " of Heracleitus, the crying aloud of that Word 
" which is through all things everlastingly " — the evolutionary 
world-process beloved of modern philosophers — is here placed 
once for all in true relation with pure transcendent and un- 
moved Being ; the Absolute One of Xenophanes and the 
Platonists. This Absolute is discerned by mystic intuition as 
the " End of Unity " in whom all diversities must cease ; 2 
the Ocean to which that ceaseless and painful Becoming, that 
unresting river of life, in which we are immersed, tends to 
return : the Son going to the Father. 

(c) LOVE, the principle of attraction, which seems to partake 
at once of the transcendental and the created worlds. If we 
consider the Father as Supreme Subject — " origin," as Aquinas 
says, "of the entire procession of Deity "3 — and the Son or 
generated Logos as the Object of His thought, in whom, says 
Ruysbroeck, " He contemplates Himself and all things in an 
eternal Now"; 4 then this personal Spirit of Love, il desiro e il 
velle, represents the relation between the two, and constitutes 
the very character of the whole. " They breathe forth a 
spirit," says Ruysbroeck, of the First and Second Persons 
" which is their will and love." 5 Proceeding, according to 
Christian doctrine, from Light and Life, the Father and Son — 
implicit, that is, in both the Absolute Source and dynamic flux 
of things — this divine and unresting spirit of desire is found 

1 Supra, Cap. II. a Tauler, op. cit., loc. cit. 

3 " Summa Contra Gentiles," 1. iv. cap. xxvi. 

4 " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. iii. cap. v. 

5 Op. cit.y 1. ii. cap. xxxvii. 



140 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

enshrined in our very selfhood ; and is the agent by which 
that selfhood is merged in the Absolute Self. " My love is my 
weight," said St. Augustine. 1 It is the spiritual equivalent of 
that gravitation which draws all things to their place. Thus 
Bernard Holland says in his Introduction to Boehme's " Dia- 
logues/' " In a deep sense, the desire of the Spark of Life in the 
Soul to return to its Original Source is part of the longing desire 
of the universal Life for its own heart or centre. Of this longing, 
the universal attraction, striving against resistance, towards a 
universal centre, proved to govern the phenomenal or physical 
world, is but the outer sheath and visible working." Again, 
" Desire is everything in Nature ; does everything. Heaven is 
Nature filled with divine Life attracted by Desire." 2 

"The best masters say," says Eckhart, "that the love 
wherewith we love is the Holy Spirit.3 Some deny it. But 
this is always true : all those motives by which we are moved 
to love, in these is nothing else than the Holy Spirit." 4 

" God wills," says Ruysbroeck, gathering these scattered 
symbols to unity again, " that we should come forth from our- 
selves in this Eternal Light ; that we should pursue in a super- 
natural manner that image which is our true Life, and that we 
should possess it with Him actively and fruitively in eternal 
blessedness . . . this going forth of the contemplative is also 
in Love : for by fruitive love he overpasses his created essence 
and finds and tastes the riches and delights of God, which He 
causes to flow without ceasing in the most secret chamber of 
the soul, at that place where it is most like unto the sublimity 
of God." 5 

Here only, in the innermost sanctuary of being, the soul's 
" last habitation," as St. Teresa said, is the truth which these 
symbols express truly known : for " as to how the Trinity is 

1 Aug. Conf., bk. xiil. cap. ix. 

2 Introduction to " Three Dialogues of the Supersensual Life," p. xxx. 

3 Probably St. Thomas Aquinas, the usual source of Eckhart's more orthodox 
utterances. Compare "Summa Contra Gentiles," 1. iv. cap. xxiii : "Since the 
Holy Ghost proceeds as the love wherewith God loves Himself, and since God loves 
with the same love Himself and other beings for the sake of His own goodness, it is 
clear that the love wherewith God loves us belongs to the Holy Ghost. In like 
manner also the love wherewith we love God." 

4 Pred. xii. 

s « L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles " 1. iii. cap. v. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 141 

one and the Trinity in the unity of the nature is one, whilst 
nevertheless the Trinity comes forth from the unity, this cannot 
be expressed in words," says Suso, " owing to the simplicity of 
that deep abyss. Hither it is, into this intelligible where that 
the spirit, spiritualizing itself, soars up; now flying in the 
measureless heights, now swimming in the soundless deeps, of 
the sublime marvels of the Godhead ! " x 

Mystical philosophy, then, has availed itself gladly of 
the doctrine of the Trinity in expressing its vision of the 
nature of that Absolute which is found, by those who attain the 
deep Abyss of the Godhead, to be essentially One. But it is 
by the complementary Christian dogma of the Incarnation 
that it has best been able to describe and explain the 
nature of the inward and personal mystic experience. "Man 
in the course of his attainment," says a living authority on 
mysticism, "is at first three — body, soul, and spirit — that is, 
when he sets out on the Great Quest ; he is two at a certain 
stage — when the soul has conceived Christ, for the spirit has 
then descended and the body is for the time being outside the 
Divine Alliance ; but he is in fine one — that is to say, when 
the whole man has died in Christ — which is the term of his 
evolution." a 

The Incarnation, which is for popular Christianity synony- 
mous with the historical birth and earthly life of Christ, is for the 
mystic not only this but also a perpetual Cosmic and personal 
process. It is an everlasting bringing forth, in the universe 
and also in the individual ascending soul, of the divine and 
perfect Life, the pure character of God, of which the one his- 
torical life dramatized the essential constituents. Hence the 
soul, like the physical embryo, resumes in its upward progress 
the spiritual life-history of the race. "The one secret, the 
greatest of all," says Patmore, is " the doctrine of the Incarna- 
tion, regarded not as an historical event which occurred two 
thousand years ago, but as an event which is renewed in the 
body of every one who is in the way to the fulfilment of his 
original destiny." 3 

We have seen that for mystical theology the Second Person 

* Suso, Leben, cap. lvi. 

2 A. E. Waite, "The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail," p. 539. 

3 " The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," " Homo," xix. 



142 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of the Trinity is the Wisdom of the Father, the Word of Life. 
The fullness of this Word could therefore only be communicated 
to the human consciousness by a Life. In the Incarnation this 
Logos, this divine character of Reality, penetrated the illusions 
of the sensual world — in other words, the illusions of all the 
selves whose ideas compose that world — and " saved " it by this 
infusion of truth. A divine, suffering, self-sacrificing Person- 
ality was then shown as the sacred heart of a living, striving 
universe: and for once the Absolute was exhibited in the 
terms of finite existence. Some such event as this breaking 
through of the divine and archetypal life into the temporal world 
is perceived by the mystical philosopher to be a necessity if man 
was ever to see in terms of life that greatness of life to which 
he belongs : learn to transcend the world of sense, and rebuild 
his life upon the levels of reality. Thus it is that the Catholic 
priest in the Christmas Mass gives thanks, not for the setting 
in hand of any commercial process of redemption, but for a 
revelation of reality, " Quia per incarnati Verbi mysterium, 
nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis infulsit : ut dum 
visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem 
rapiamur." The very essence of mystical Christianity seems 
to be summed up in these lovely words. 1 

" The Son of God, the Eternal Word in the Father, who is 
the glance, or brightness, and the power of the light eternity," 
says Boehme, " must become man and be born in you, if you 
will know God : otherwise you are in the dark stable and go 
about groping." 2 " The Word," says Ruysbroeck finely, " is no 
other than See. And this is the coming forth and the birth of 
the Son of the Eternal Light, in Whom all blessedness is seen 
and known." 3 

Once at any rate, they say in effect, the measure of that 
which it was possible for the Spirit of Life to do and for living 
creatures to be, was filled to the brim. By this event, all 
were assured that the ladder of Creation was made whole ; in 



1 " Because by the mystery of the Incarnate Word the new light of Thy brightness 
hath shone upon the eyes of our mind : that we, knowing God seen of the eyes, by 
Him may be snatched up into the love of that which eye hath not seen " (Missale 
Romanum. Praefatio Solemnis de Nativitate). 

2 " The Threefold Life of Man," cap. hi. § 31. 

3 Ruysbroeck, op. cit. t 1. iii. cap. i. 






MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 143 

this hypostatic union, the breach between appearance and 
reality, between God and man, was healed. The Bridge so 
made — to use St. Catherine of Siena's allegory again — is 
eternal, since it was " laid before the foundation of the world " 
in the "Eternal Now." Thus the voice of the Father says 
to her in that vision, " I also wish thee to look at the Bridge 
of My only-begotten Son, and see the greatness thereof, for 
it reaches from Heaven to earth ; that is, that the earth of 
your humanity is joined to the greatness of the Deity thereby. 
I say, then, that this Bridge reaches from Heaven to earth, and 
constitutes the union which I have made with man. ... So 
the height of the Divinity, humbled to the earth, and joined 
with your humanity, made the Bridge and reformed the road. 
Why was this done ? In order that man might come to his 
true happiness with the angels. And observe that it is not 
enough, in order that you should have life, that My Son 
should have made you this Bridge, unless you walk there- 
on." x "Our high Father God Almighty, which is Being," 
says Lady Julian, " He knew and loved us from afore any time. 
Of which knowing, in His marvellous deep charity, and the 
foreseeing counsel of all the blessed Trinity, He willed that 
the Second Person should become our Mother." 2 

It is of course this quickening communication of grace 
to nature, of God to man — this claim to an influx of ultimate 
reality, possible of assimilation by all — which constitutes the 
strength of the Christian religion. Instead of the stony diet 
of the philosophers, it offers to the self hungry for the Absolute 
that Pants Angelorum, the vivifying principle of the world. 
That is to say, it gives positive and experimental knowledge 
of and union with a supreme Personality — absorption into His 
mystical body — instead of the artificial conviction produced 
by concentration on an idea. It knits up the universe ; shows 
the phenomenal pierced in all directions by the real, and made 
one with it. It provides a solid basis for mysticism : a basis 
which is at once metaphysical and psychological : and shows 
that state towards which the world's deepest minds have always 
instinctively aspired, as a part of the Cosmic return through 
Christ to God. 

1 Dialogo, cap. xxii. 

2 " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lix. 



144 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

"Quivi e la sapienza e la possanza 

ch' apri le strade intra il cielo e la terra 
onde fu gia si lunga disianza." 1 

This is what the Christian mystics mean to express when 
they declare over and over again that the return to the Divine 
Substance, the Absolute, which is the end of the soul's ascent, 
can only be made through the humanity of Christ. The Son, 
the Word, is the character of the Father: that in which the 
Ineffable Godhead knows Himself, as we only know ourselves 
in our own characters. He is thus a double link : the means of 
God's self-consciousness, the means of man's consciousness of 
God. How then, asks mystic theology, could such a link 
complete its attachments without some such process as that 
which the Incarnation dramatized in time and space? The 
Principle of Life is also the Principle of Restitution ; by 
which the imperfect and broken life of sense is mended and 
transformed into the perfect life of spirit. Hence the title of 
Repairer applied by Boehme and Saint-Martin to the Second 
Person of the Trinity. 

In the last resort, the doctrine of the Incarnation is the 
only safeguard of the mystics against the pantheism to which 
they always tend. The Unconditioned Absolute, so soon as 
it alone becomes the object of their contemplation, is apt to be 
conceived merely as Divine Essence ; the idea of Personality 
evaporates and loving communion is at an end. This is 
probably the reason why so many of the greatest contem- 
platives — Suso and St. Teresa are cases in point— have found 
that deliberate meditation upon the, humanity of Christ, 
difficult and uncongenial as is this concrete devotion to the 
mystical temperament, was a necessity if they were to retain 
a healthy and well-balanced inner life. 

Further, these mystics see in the historic life of Christ 
an epitome — or if you will, an exhibition — of the essentials 
of all spiritual life. There they see dramatized not only the 
Cosmic process of the Divine Wisdom, but also the inward 
experience of every soul on her Tvay to union with that 
Absolute " to which the whole Creation moves." This is why 

x Par. xxxiii. 37. " Here is the Wisdom and the Power which opened the 
ways betwixt heaven and earth, for which there erst had been so long a yearning." 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 145 

the expressions which they use to describe the evolution of 
the mystical consciousness from the birth of the divine in the 
spark of the soul to its final unification with the Absolute 
Life are so constantly chosen from the Drama of Faith. In 
this drama they see described under veils the supreme and 
necessary adventures of the spirit. Its obscure and humble 
birth, its education in poverty, its temptation, mortification, and 
solitude, its " illuminated life " of service and contemplation, the 
desolation of that " dark night of the soul " in which it seems 
abandoned by the Divine : the painful death of the self, its 
resurrection to the glorified existence of the Unitive Way, its 
final reabsorption in its Source — all these, they say, were lived 
once in a supreme degree in the flesh. Moreover, the degree 
of closeness with which the individual experience adheres 
to this Pattern is always taken by them as a standard 
of the healthiness, ardour, and success of its transcendental 
activities. 

"Apparve in questa forma 
Per dare a noi la norma." 

sang Jacopone da Todi. " And he who vainly thinketh other- 
wise," says the " Theologia Germanica " with uncompromising 
vigour, " is deceived. And he who saith otherwise, lieth." * 

Those to whom such a parallel seems artificial to the last 
degree should remember that according to the doctrine of 
mysticism that drama of the self-limitation and self-sacrifice 
of the Absolute Life, which was once played out in the pheno- 
menal world — forced, as it were, upon the consciousness of 
dim-eyed men — is eternally going forward upon the plane of 
reality. To them the Cross of Calvary is implicit in the Rose 
of the World. The law of this Infinite Life, which was in 
the Incarnation expressing Its own nature to a supreme degree, 
must then also be the law of the finite life ; in so far as that life 
aspires to transcend individual limitations, rise to freedom, 
and attain union with Infinity. It is this governing idea which 
justifies the apparently fanciful allegorizations of Christian 
history which swarm in the works of the mystics. 

To exhibit these allegorizations in any detail would be 
tedious. All that is necessary is that the principle underlying 

1 "Theologia Germanica," cap. xviii. 



116 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

them should be understood, when anyone can make without 
difficulty the specific attributions. I give, then, but one 
example : that which is referred by mystical writers to the 
Nativity, and concerns the eternal Birth or Generation of the 
Son or Divine Word. 

This Birth is in its first, or Cosmic sense, the welling forth 
of the Spirit of Life from the Divine Abyss of the unconditioned 
Godhead. "From our proper Source, that is to say, from the 
Father and all that which lives in Him, there shines," says Ruys- 
broeck, " an eternal Ray, the which is the Birth of the Son." * 
It is of this perpetual generation of the Word that Meister 
Eckhart speaks, when he says in his Christmas sermon, " We 
are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God 
the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all Eternity : 
whilst this birth also comes to pass in Time and in human 
nature. Saint Augustine says this Birth is ever taking place.' 
At this point, with that strong practical instinct which is 
characteristic of the mystics, Eckhart turns abruptly from 
speculation to immediate experience, and continues, " But if it 
takes not place in me, what avails it ? Everything lies in this, 
that it should take place in me." 2 

Here in a few words the two-fold character of this Mystic 
Birth is exhibited. The interest is suddenly deflected from its 
Cosmic to its personal aspect ; and the individual is reminded 
that in him, no less than in the Archetypal Universe, real life 
must be born if real life is to be lived. "When the soul brings 
forth the Son," he says in another place, " it is happier than 
Mary." 3 

Since the soul, according to mystic principles, can only 
perceive Reality in proportion as she is real, know God by 
becoming God-like, it is clear that this birth is the initial 

1 " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. iii. cap. v. The extreme antiquity 
of this idea is illustrated by the Catholic practice, dating from Patristic times, of 
celebrating three Masses on Christmas Day. Of these the first, at midnight, com- 
memorates the Eternal Generation of the Son j the second, at dawn, His incarnation 
upon earth ; the third His birth in the heart of man. See Kellner, " Heortology" 
(English translation, London, 1908), p. 156. 

3 Eckhart, Pred. i., " Mystische Schriften," p. 13. Compare Tauler, Sermon 
on the Nativity of Our Lady (" The Inner Way," p. 167). 

3 This idea of re-birth is probably of Oriental origin. It can be traced back to 
Egypt, being found in the Hermetic writings of the third century B.C. See Petrie, 
" Personal Religion in Egypt before Christianity," p. 167. 



MYSTICISM AND THEOLOGY 147 

necessity. The true and definitely directed mystical life does 
and must open with that most actual and stupendous, though 
indescribable phenomenon, the coming forth into consciousness 
of man's deeper, spiritual self, which ascetical and mystical 
writers of all ages have agreed to call Regeneration or Re-birth. 

We have already considered x the New Birth in its purely 
psychological aspect, as the emergence of the transcendental 
sense. Here its more profound and mystical side is exhibited, its 
divine character revealed. By a process which may indifferently 
be described as the birth of something new or the coming forth 
of something which has slept — since both these phrases are but 
metaphors for another and more secret thing — the eye is 
opened on Eternity ; the self, abruptly made aware of Reality, 
comes forth from the cave of illusion like a child from the womb 
and begins to live upon the supersensual plane. Then she 
feels in her inmost part a new presence, a new consciousness — 
it were hardly an exaggeration to say a new Person — weak, 
demanding nurture, clearly destined to pass through many 
phases of development before its maturity is reached ; yet of so 
strange a nature, that in comparison with its environment she 
may well regard it as Divine. 

" This change, this upsetting, is called re-birth. To be born 
simply means to enter into a world in which the senses dominate, 
in which wisdom and love languish in the bonds of individuality. 
To be re-born means to return to a world where the spirit 
of wisdom and love governs and animal-man obeys." 2 So 
Eckartshausen. It means, says Jane Lead, " the bringing forth 
of a new-created Godlike similitude in the soul." 3 This * God- 
like similitude," or New Man, is described by Saint-Martin as 
" born in the midst of humiliations, his whole history being that 
of God suffering within us." 4 He is brought forth, says 
Eckartshausen again, in the stable previously inhabited by the 
ox of passion and the ass of prejudices His mother, says 
Boehme, is the Virgin Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, or Mirror 
of the Being of God. With the emergence of this new 
and sublime factor into the conscious field — this spiritual birth 

1 Supra, p. 63. 2 f The Cloud upon the Sanctuary," p. 77. 

3 ** The Enochian Walks with God," p. 3. 

* A. E. Waite, " Louis Claude de Saint- Martin," p. 263. 

s Op. cit., p. 81. 



148 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

— the mystic life begins : as the Christian epoch began with the 
emergence of Divine Spirit in the flesh. Paradise, says Boehme, 
is still in the world, but man is not in Paradise unless he be born 
again. In that case, he stands therein in the New Birth. 1 He 
has been lifted, as Eucken would say, to the " spiritual level," 
and there finds Paradise, the Independent Spiritual Life " not 
alien but his own." 2 

Here then are one or two characteristics of the map which 
we shall find the Christian mystics most inclined to use. 
There are, of course, other great landmarks upon it: and these 
we shall meet as we follow in detail the voyages of the questing 
soul. One warning, however, must be given to amateur 
geographers before we go on. Like all other maps, this one at 
its best can but represent by harsh outline and conventional 
colour the living earth which those travellers have trod. It is a 
deliberately schematic representation of Reality, a flat and 
sometimes arid symbol of great landscapes, rushing rivers, 
awful peaks : dangerous unless these its limitations be always 
kept in mind. The boy who defined Canada as " very pink " 
was not much further off the track than those who would limit 
the Adorable Trinity to the definitions of the " Athanasian " 
Creed ; however useful that chart may be, and is, within the 
boundaries imposed by its form. 

Further, all such maps, and we who treat of them, can but 
set down in cold blood and with a dreadful pretence of precision, 
matters which the true explorers of Eternity were only able to 
apprehend in the ardours of such a passion, in the transports of 
such a union as we, poor finite slaves of our frittered emotions, 
could hardly look upon and live. "If you would truly know 
how these things come to pass," says St. Bonaventura, in a 
passage which all students of theology should ever keep in 
mind, " ask it of grace, not of doctrine ; of desire, not of 
intellect ; of the ardours of prayer, not of the teachings of the 
schools ; of the Bridegroom, not of the Master ; of God, not 
of man ; of the darkness, not of the day ; not of illumination, 
but of that Fire which enflames all and wraps us in God 
with great sweetness and most ardent love. The which Fire 
most truly is God, and the hearth thereof is in Jerusalem." 3 

x " De Signatura Rerum," viii. 47. 9 " Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens," p. 90. 
s M De Itinerario Mentis in Deo," cap. vii. 



CHAPTER VI 

MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 

Mystical Symbols — Their use and necessity — Their immense variety — Three 
groups of Symbols — (i) Divine Transcendence and the idea of pilgrimage — (2) Mutual 
Desire and symbols of love — (3) Divine Immanence, and Symbols of transmutation — 
(1) Symbols of Pilgrimage — The Sufi Pilgrim — The Seven Valleys of 'Attar — Dante 
—(2) Mutual Desire— "The Hymn of Jesus"— "The Hound of Heaven "—The 
•'Following Love" — Symbols of Love — the " Spiritual Marriage " — St. Bernard — 
St. Teresa — Richard of St. Victor's Four Degrees of Ardent Love — (3) Symbols of 
Transmutation — The Spiritual Alchemists — The Philosopher's Stone — The material 01 
Alchemy — Jacob Boehme — "Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury" — the Mystical transmuta- 
tion — the Magnum Opus — " Hunting the Greene Lyon " — The Red Dragon 

IN our study of theology we saw the Christian mystic 
adopting, as chart and pilot book of his voyages and 
adventures, the scheme of faith, and diagram of the 
spiritual world, which is adopted by ordinary Christian men. 
We saw that he found in it a depth and richness of content which 
the conventional believer in that theology, the " good church- 
man," seldom suspects : and that which is here true of the 
Christian mystic, is true, as regards their respective theologies, of 
the Pagan, the Mahommedan and the Buddhist as well. 

But, since the spiritual adventures of the mystic are not 
those of ordinary men, it will follow that this map, though 
always true for him, is not complete. He can press forward to 
countries which unmystical piety must mark as unexplored. 
Pushing out from harbour to " the vast and stormy sea 
of the divine," he can take soundings, and mark dangers the 
existence of which such piety never needs to prove. 

Hence it is not strange that certain maps, artistic representa- 
tions or symbolic schemes, should have come into being which 
describe or suggest the special experiences of the mystical 
consciousness, and the doctrines to which these experiences 
have given birth. Many of these maps have an uncouth, even 

149 



150 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

an impious appearance in the eyes of those unacquainted with 
the facts which they attempt to translate : as the charts of the 
deep-sea sailor seem ugly and unintelligible things to those who 
have never been out of sight of land. Others — and these the 
most pleasing, most easily understood — have already been made 
familiar, perhaps tiresomely familiar, to us by the poets ; who, 
intuitively recognizing their suggestive qualities, their links with 
truth, have borrowed and adapted them to their own business 
of translating Reality into terms of rhythm and speech. 
Ultimately, however, they owe their origin to the mystics, 
or to that mystical sense which is innate in all true poets : 
and in the last resort it is the mystic's kingdom, and the 
mystic's experience, which they affect to describe. 

Now these special mystical diagrams, these symbolic and 
artistic descriptions of man's inward history — his secret adven- 
tures with God — are almost endless in their variety : since in 
each we have a picture of the country of the soul seen through 
a different temperament. To describe all would be to analyse 
the whole field of mystical literature, and indeed much other 
literature as well ; to epitomize in fact all that has been dreamed 
and written concerning the so-called " inner life " — a dreary and 
a lengthy task. But the majority of them, I think, tend to 
express a comparatively small number of essential doctrines 
or fundamental ways of seeing things ; and as regards their 
imagery, these fall into three great classes ; representative of 
the three principal ways in which man's spiritual consciousness 
reacts to the touch of Reality, the three primary if paradoxical 
facts of which that consciousness must be aware. Hence a 
consideration of mystic symbols drawn from each of these 
groups may give us a key with which to unlock some at 
least of the verbal riddles of the individual adventurer. 

Thanks to the spatial imagery inseparable from human 
thinking and human expression, no direct description of 
spiritual experience is or can be possible to man. It must 
always be symbolic, allusive, oblique : always suggest, but 
never tell, the truth : and in this respect there is not much 
to choose between the fluid and artistic language of vision 
and the arid technicalities of philosophy. In another respect, 
however, there is a great deal to choose between them : and 
here the visionary, not the philosopher, receives the palm. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 151 

The greater the suggestive quality of the symbol used, the 
more answering emotion it evokes in those to whom it is 
addressed, the more truth it will convey. A good symbolism, 
therefore, will be more than mere diagram or mere allegory : it 
will use to the utmost the resources of beauty and of passion, 
will bring with it hints of mystery and wonder, bewitch with 
dreamy periods the mind to which it is addressed. Its 
appeal will not be to the clever brain, but to the desirous heart, 
the intuitive sense, of man. 

The three great classes of symbols which I propose to 
consider, play upon three deep cravings of the self, three great 
expressions of man's restlessness, which only mystic truth can 
fully satisfy. The first is the craving which make him a pilgrim 
and wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal 
world in search of a lost home, a " better country " ; an 
Eldorado, a Sarras, a Heavenly Syon. The next is that 
craving of heart for heart, of the soul for its perfect mate, 
which makes him a lover. The third is the craving for inward 
purity and perfection, which makes him an ascetic, and in the 
last resort a saint. 

These three cravings, I think, answer to three ways in which 
mystics of different temperaments attack the problem of the 
Absolute : three different formulae under which their transcen- 
dence of the sense-world can be described. In describing this 
transcendence, and the special adventures involved in it, they 
are describing a change from the state of ordinary men, in 
touch with the sense-world, responding to its rhythms, to the 
state of spiritual consciousness in which, as they say, they are 
" in union " with Divine Reality, with God. Whatever be the 
theological creed of the mystic, he never varies in declaring 
this close, definite, and actual intimacy to be the end of his 
quest. " Mark me like the tulip with Thine own streaks," says 
the Sufi. 1 " I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his 
own hand is to a man," says the German contemplative. 2 " My 
me is God, nor do I know my selfhood save in Him," says the 
Italian saint. 3 

But, since this Absolute God is for him substance, ground or 

1 Jami, M Joseph and Zulaikha. The Poet's Prayer." 

2 "Theologia Germanica," cap. x. 

3 St. Catherine of Genoa, Vita e Dottrina, cap. xiv. 



152 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

underlying Reality of all that is: present yet absent, near 
yet far: He is as truly immanent in the human Soul as in 
the Universe. The seeker for the Real may therefore ob- 
jectify his quest in two apparently contradictory, yet really 
mutually explanatory ways. First he may see it as an out- 
going journey from the world of illusion to the real or 
transcendental world : a leaving of the visible for the invisible. 
Secondly, it may appear to him as an inward alteration, re- 
making or regeneration, by which his personality or character 
is so changed as to be able to enter into communion with that 
Fontal Being which he loves and desires ; is united with and 
dominated by the indwelling God who is the fount of its spiritual 
life. In the first case, the objective idea " God " is the pivot of 
his symbolism : the Blazing Star, or Magnet of the Universe 
which he has seen far off: and seeing, has worshipped and 
desired. In the second case, this is replaced by the subjective 
idea " Sanctity," with its accompanying consciousness of a 
disharmony to be abolished. The Mystic Way will then be 
described, not as a journey, but as an alteration of personality, 
the transmuting of " earthly " into " heavenly " man. Plainly 
these two aspects are obverse and reverse of one whole. They 
represent that mighty pair of opposites, Infinite and Finite, 
God and Self, which it is the business of mysticism to carry 
up into a higher synthesis. 

Whether the process be considered as outward search or 
inward change, its object and its end are the same. Man 
enters into the order of Reality: his desire is met by the 
Divine Desire, his "separated will" or life becomes one with 
the great Life of the All. 

From what has been said in the last chapter, it will be clear 
that the two opposing types of symbolism which we have 
discussed — the outward search and inward change — will be 
adopted by the two groups of selves whose experience of 
"union with the Divine" leans (i) to the Transcendent or ex- 
ternal, (2) to the Immanent or internal way of apprehending 
Reality: and that a third or intermediate group of images 
will be necessary to express the experience of those to whom 
mystic feeling — the satisfaction of love — is the supreme factor 
in the mystic life. According, then, to whether man's instinct 
prompts him to describe the Absolute Reality which he knows 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 153 

as a Place, a Person, or a State — all three of course but partial 
and human symbols of the one Indescribable Truth — so will 
he tend to adopt a symbolism of one or other of these 
three types. 

A. Those who conceive the Perfect as a beatific vision 
exterior to them and very far off, who find in the doctrine 
of Emanations something which answers to their inward ex- 
perience, will feel the process of their entrance into reality to 
be a quest, an arduous journey from the material to the spiritual 
world. They move away from, rather than transmute to 
another form, the life of sense. The ecstasies of such mystics 
will answer to the root-meaning of that much perverted word, 
as a " standing out " from themselves ; a flight to happier 
countries far away. For them, the soul is outward bound 
towards its home. 

B. Those for whom mysticism is above all things an in- 
timate and personal relation, the satisfaction of a deep desire — 
who can say with Gertrude More, " never was there or can there 
be imagined such a love, as is between an humble soul and 
Thee" — will fall back upon imagery drawn largely from the 
language of earthly passion. Since the Christian religion insists 
upon the personal aspect of the Godhead, and provides in Christ 
an object of such intimacy, devotion and desire, an enormous 
number of Christian mystics necessarily use symbols of this 
kind. 

C. Those who are conscious rather of the Divine as a Tran- 
scendent Life immanent in the world and the self, and of a 
strange spiritual seed within them by whose development man, 
moving to higher levels of character and consciousness, attains 
his end, will see the mystic life as involving inward change 
rather than outgoing search. Regeneration is their watchword, 
and they will choose symbols of growth or transmutation : 
saying with St. Catherine of Genoa, " my Being is God, not 
by simple participation, but by a true transformation of my 
Being." « 

These three groups of mystics, then, stand for three kinds of 

temperament ; and we may fairly take as their characteristic 

forms of symbolic expression the Mystic Quest, the Marriage 

of the Soul and the " Great Work " of the Spiritual Alchemists. 

1 Vita e Dottrina, p. 36. 



154 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 



The pilgrimage idea, the outgoing quest, appears in mysti- 
cal literature under two rather different aspects. One is the 
search for the " Hidden Treasure which desires to be found." 
Such is the "quest of the Grail" when regarded in its mystic 
aspect as an allegory of the adventures of the soul. The 
other is the long, hard journey towards a known and definite 
goal or state. Such is Dante's "Divine Comedy"; which is, 
in one of its aspects, a faithful and detailed description of 
the Mystic Way. The goal of such a quest — the Empyrean of 
Dante, the Beatific Vision or fulfilment of love — is often called 
Jerusalem by the Christian Mystics ; naturally enough, since 
that city was for the mediaeval mind the supreme end of 
pilgrimage. By Jerusalem they mean not only the celestial 
country, Heaven : but also the spiritual life, which is " itself a 
heaven." 1 "Just as a true pilgrim going towards Jerusalem," 
says Hilton, " leaveth behind him house and land, wife and 
children, and maketh himself poor and bare from all things 
that he hath, that he may go lightly without letting. Right so, 
if thou wilt be a spiritual pilgrim, thou shalt strip thyself naked 
of all that thou hast . . . then shalt thou resolve in thy heart 
fully and wholly that thou wilt be at Jerusalem, and at no other 
place but there." " Jerusalem," he says in this same chapter, " is 
as much as to say a sight of peace ; and betokeneth contempla- 
tion in perfect love of God." 2 

Under this image of a pilgrimage — an image as concrete and 
practical, as remote from the romantic and picturesque, for the 
mediaeval writers who used it, as a symbolism of hotel and 
railway train would be to us — the mystics contrived to 
summarize and suggest much of the life history of the ascend- 
ing soul ; the developing spiritual consciousness. The neces- 
sary freedom and detachment of the traveller, his departure 
from his normal life and interests, the difficulties, enemies, and 
hardships encountered on the road ; the length of the journey 
the variety of the country, the dark night which overtakes him, 
the glimpses of destination far away — all these are seen more 

' This image seems first to have been elaborated by St. Augustine, from whom it 
was borrowed by Hugh of St. Victor, and most of the mediaeval mystics. 
2 "The Scale of Perfection," bk. ii. pt. ii. cap. iii. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 155 

and more as we advance in knowledge to constitute a trans- 
parent allegory of the incidents of man's progress from the 
unreal to the real. Bunyan was but the last and least mystical 
of a long series of minds which grasped this fact. 

The Traveller, says the Sufi 'Aziz bin Mahommed Nafasi, 
in whose book, " The Remotest Aim," the pilgrimage-symbolism 
is developed in great detail, is the Perceptive or Intuitive Sense 
of Man. The goal to which he journeys is Knowledge of God. 
This mysterious traveller towards the only country of the soul 
may be known of other men by his detachment, charity, 
humility, and patience. These primary virtues, however — 
belonging to ethical rather than to spiritual life — are not 
enough to bring his quest to a successful termination. They 
make him, say the Sufis, " perfect in knowledge of his goal but 
deficient in the power of reaching it." Though he has fraternal 
love for his fellow-pilgrims, detachment from wayside allure- 
ments, tireless perseverance on the road, he is still encumbered 
and weakened by unnecessary luggage. The second stage of 
his journey, therefore, is initiated like that of Christian by a 
casting off of his burden : a total self-renouncement, the attain- 
ment of a Franciscan poverty of spirit whereby he becomes 
"Perfectly Free." 

Having got rid of all impediments to the spiritual quest, he 
must now acquire or develop in their stead the characteristic mys- 
tical qualities, or Three Aids of the Pilgrim ; which are called in 
this system Attraction, Devotion, and Elevation. Attraction is 
consciousness of the mutual desire existing between man's 
spirit and the Divine Spirit : of the link of love which knits up 
reality and draws all things to their home in God. This is 
the universal law on which all mysticism is based. It is St. 
Augustine's " Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts 
can find no rest outside of Thee." This " natural magnetism," 
then, once he is aware of it, will draw the pilgrim irresistibly 
along the road from the Many to the One. His second aid, 
Devotion, says the " Remotest Aim " in a phrase of great depth 
and beauty, is " the prosecution of the journey to God and in 
God." * It embraces, in fact, the whole contemplative life. It 

1 So too Ruysbroeck says that " the just man goes towards God by inward love 
in perpetual activity and in God in virtue of his fruitive affection in eternal rest " 
(" L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. ii. cap. Ixxiii.). 



156 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

is the next degree of spiritual consciousness after the blind 
yielding to the attraction of the Real, and the setting in order 
of man's relation to his source. 

The Traveller's journey to God is complete when he 
attains knowledge of Him — " Illumination," in the language 
of European mystics. The point at which this is attained is 
called the Tavern, or resting-place upon the road, where he 
is fed with the Divine Mysteries. There are also "Wine 
Shops " upon the way, where the weary pilgrim is cheered and 
refreshed by a draught of the wine of Divine Love. 1 Only 
when the journey to God is completed begins the " Journey in 
God " — that which the Christian mystics call the Unitive Way — 
and this, since it is the essence of Eternal Life, can have no end. 
Elevation, the pilgrim's third aid, is the exalted or ecstatic form 
of consciousness peculiar to the contemplative, and which allows 
the traveller to see the spiritual city towards which he goes. 2 

The Sufi poet 'Attar, in his mystical poem, " The Colloquy 
of the Birds," has described the stages of this same spiritual 
pilgrimage with greater psychological insight, as the journey 
through " Seven Valleys." The lapwing, having been asked by 
other birds what is the length of the road which leads to the 
hidden Palace of the King, replies that there are Seven Valleys 
through which every traveller must pass : but since none who 
attain the End ever come back to describe their adventures, no 
one knows the length of the way. 

(i) The first valley, says the lapwing, is the Valley of the 
Quest. It is long and toilsome : and there the traveller must 
strip himself of all earthly things, becoming poor, bare, and 
desolate : and so stay till the Supernal Light casts a ray on his 
desolation. It is, in fact, Dante's Purgatorio, the Christian Way 
of Purgation : the period of self-stripping and purification which 
no mystic system omits. 

(2) When the ray of Supernal Light has touched the pilgrim 
he enters the limitless Valley of Love : begins, that is to say, the 
mystic life. It is Dante's " Earthly Paradise," or, in the tradi- 
tional system of the mystics, the onset of illumination. 

1 I need not remind the reader 01 the fact that this symbolism, perverted to the 
purposes of his sceptical philosophy, runs through the whole of the Rubaiyat of Omar 
Khayydm. 

a See Palmer's " Oriental Mysticism," pt. i. caps, i., ii., iii., and v. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 157 

(3) Hence he passes to the Valley of Knowledge or En- 
lightenment — the contemplative state — where each finds in 
communion with Truth the place that belongs to him. No 
Dante student will fail to see here a striking parallel with those 
planetary heavens where each soul partakes of the Divine, " not 
supremely in the absolute sense," as St. Bonaventura has it, but 
" supremely in respect of himself" The mystery of Being is 
now revealed to the traveller. He sees Nature's secret, and 
God in all things. It is the height of illumination. 

(4) The next stage is the Valley of Detachment, of utter 
absorption in Divine Love — the Stellar Heaven of the Saints — 
where Duty is seen to be all in all. This leads to — 

(5) The Valley of the Unity, where the naked Godhead is 
the one object of contemplation. This is the stage of ecstasy, or 
the Beatific Vision : Dante's condition in the last canto of 
the "Paradise" It is transient, however, and leads to — 

(6) The Valley of Amazement ; where the Vision, far trans- 
cending the pilgrim's receptive power, appears to be taken from 
him and he is plunged in darkness and bewilderment. This is 
the state which Dionysius the Areopagite, and after him many 
mediaeval mystics, called the Divine Dark, and described as the 
truest and closest of all our apprehensions of the Godhead. It 
is the Cloud of Unknowing: "dark from excessive bright." The 
final stage is — 

(7) The Valley of Annihilation of Self : the supreme degree 
of union or theopathetic state, in which the self is utterly 
merged "like a fish in the sea" in the ocean of Divine Love. 1 

Through all these metaphors of pilgrimage to a goal — of a 
road followed, distance overpassed, fatigue endured — there runs 
the definite idea that the travelling self in undertaking the 
journey is fulfilling a destiny, a law of the transcendental life ; 
obeying an imperative need. The chosen Knights are destine'cl 
or called to the quest of the Grail. " All men are called to their 
origin," says Rulman Merswin, and the fishes which he sees in 
his Vision of Nine Rocks are impelled to struggle as it were 
" against nature " uphill from pool to pool towards their source. 2 

1 'Attar's allegory of the Valleys will be found epitomised in Mr. W. S. Lilly's 
excellent account of the Sufi poets, in '• Many Mansions," p. 130 ; and in a fuller 
form in "The Porch" Series, No. 8. 

2 Jundt, " Rulman Merswin," p. 27. 



158 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

All mystical thinkers agree in declaring that there is a 
mutual attraction between the Spark of the Soul, the free divine 
germ in man, and the Fount from which it came forth. " We 
long for the Absolute," says Royce, " only in so far as in us the 
Absolute also longs, and seeks, through our very temporal 
striving, the peace that is nowhere in Time, but only, and yet 
Absolutely, in Eternity." » So, many centuries before the birth 
of American philosophy, Hilton put the same truth of ex- 
perience in lovelier words. " He it is that desireth in thee, and 
He it is that is desired. He is all and He doth all if thou couldst 
see Him." 2 

The homeward journey of man's spirit, then, is due to the 
push of a divine life within answering to the pull of a divine 
life without.3 It is the going of like to like, the fulfilment of 
a Cosmic necessity : and the mystics, in undertaking it, are 
humanity's pioneers on the only road to rest. Hence that 
attraction which the Moslem mystic discerned as the traveller's 
necessary aid, is a fundamental doctrine of all mysticism : and 
as a consequence, the symbolism of mutual desire is here inex- 
tricably mingled with that of pilgrimage. The spiritual pilgrim 
goes because he is called ; because he wants to go, must go, if 
he is to find rest and peace. " God needs man," says Eckhart. 
It is Love calling to love : and the journey, though in one sense 
a hard pilgrimage, up and out, by the terraced mount and the 
ten heavens to God, in another is the inevitable rush of the 
roving comet, caught at last, to the Central Sun. " My weight 
is my love," said St. Augustine.4 Like gravitation, it inevitably 
compels, for good or evil, every spirit to its own place. Ac- 
cording to another range of symbols, that love flings open a 
door, in order that the Larger Life may rush in, and it and the 
soul be " one thing." 

1 Royce, "The World and the Individual," vol. ii. p. 386. 

2 "The Scale of Perfection," bk. ii. pt. ii. cap. v. 

3 Compare Recejac (" Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 252). 
" According to mysticism, morality leads the soul to the frontiers of the Absolute and 
even gives it an impulsion to enter, but this is not enough. This movement of pure 
Freedom cannot succeed unless there is an equivalent movement within the Absolute 
itself." 

4 Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. 9. "All those who love," says Ruysbroeck, " feel this 
attraction ; more or less according to the degree of their love." (" De Calculo sive de 
Perfectione filiorum Dei." Quoted by Maeterlinck, introduction to " L'Ornement des 
Noces Spirituelles," p. lvi.) 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 159 

Here, then, we run through the whole gamut of symbolic 
expression ; through Transcendence, Desire, and Immanence. 
All are seen to point to one consummation, diversely and 
allusively expressed : the imperative need of union between 
man's separated spirit and the Real, his remaking in the 
interests of transcendent life, his establishment in that Kingdom 
which is both " near and far." 

"In the book of Hidden Things it is written," says 
Eckhart, " ' I stand at the door and knock and wait ' . . . 
thou needst not seek Him here or there : He is no farther 
off than the door of the heart. There He stands and waits 
and waits until He finds thee ready to open and let Him 
in. Thou needst not call Him from a distance ; to wait 
until thou openest is harder for Him than for thee. He needs 
thee a thousand times more than thou canst need Him. Thy 
opening and His entering are but one moment? x " God," he says 
in another place, " can as little do without us, as we without 
Him." 2 Our attainment of the Absolute is not a one-sided 
ambition, but a mutual necessity. " For our natural Will," says 
Lady Julian, " is to have God, and the Good will of God is to 
have us ; and we may never cease from longing till we have Him 
in fullness of joy "3 

So, in the beautiful poem or ritual called the " Hymn of 
Jesus," contained in the apocryphal " Acts of John " and dating 
from primitive Christian times, the Logos, or Eternal Christ, 
is thus represented as matching with His own transcendent 
self-giving desire every need of the soul who stands with Him 
in the mystical circle of initiation.4 

The Soul says : — 

"'I would be saved.'" 

Christ replies : — 

"'And I would save.' Amen." 

The Dialogue continues : — 

"'I would be loosed.' 
'And I would loose.' Amen. 



1 Meister Eckhart, Pred. iii. 2 Ibid., Pred. xiii. 

3 " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. vi. 

4 The Greek and English text will be found in the " Apocrypha Anecdota " of 
Dr. M. R. James, series 2 (Cambridge, 1897), pp. 1-25. I follow his ranslation. 
It will be seen that I have adopted the hypothesis of Mr. G. R. S. Mead as to the 
dramatic nature of this poem. See his " Echoes from the Gnosis," 1896. 



160 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

'I would be pierced.' 

1 And I would pierce.' Amen. 

* I would be born.' 

'And I would bear.' Amen. 

' I would eat.' 

'And I would be eaten.' Amen. 

' I would hear.' 

'And I would be heard.' Amen.' 



" ' I am a Lamp to thee who beholdest Me, 
I am a Mirror to thee who perceivest Me, 
I am a Door to thee, who knockest at Me, 
I am a Way to thee a wayfarer.' " 

The same fundamental idea of the mutual quest of the Soul 
and the Absolute is expressed in the terms of another symbolism 
by the great Mahommedan mystic : — 

14 No lover ever seeks union with his beloved, 
But his beloved is also seeking union with him. 
But the lover's love makes his body lean 
While the beloved's love makes her fair and lusty. 
When in this heart the lightning spark of love arises, 
Be sure this love is reciprocated in that heart. 
When the love of God arises in thy heart, 
Without doubt God also feels love for thee." * 

The mystic vision, then, is of a spiritual universe held tight 
within the bonds of love : 2 and of the free and restless human 
soul, having within it the spark of divine desire, the " tendency 
to the Absolute," only finding satisfaction and true life when 
united with this Life of God. Then, in Patmore's lovely image, 
" the babe is at its mother's breast," " the lover has returned to 
the beloved." 3 

Whatever their outward sense, the mystic symbols one and 
all express aspects of this "secret of the world," this primal 

* "Jelalu 'd Din " (Wisdom of the East Series), p. 77. 

* So Dante— 

"Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna 
legato con amore in un volume 
cio che per l'universo si squaderna." 

(Par. xxxiii. 85.) 

8 "The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," " Aurea Dicta," ccxxviii. 






MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM ' 161 

verity. But whereas such great visionary schemes as those of 
'Attar and of Dante show it in its Cosmic form, in many other 
symbols — particularly those which we meet in the writings of 
the ecstatic saints — the personal subjective note, the conscious- 
ness of an individual relation between that one self and the 
Supernal Self, overpowers all such general applications. Then 
philosophy and formal allegory must step aside : the sacramental 
language of exalted emotion, of profoundly felt experience, 
takes its place. The phases of mutual love, of wooing and 
combat, awe and delight — the fevers of desire, the ecstasy of 
surrender — are drawn upon. " All this lovely dalliance of 
private conference," in Hilton's words, 1 is made to contribute 
something to the description of the great and secret drama of 
the soul. 

To such symbolic transcripts of intimate experience belongs 
one amazing episode of the spiritual life-history which, because 
it has been given immortal expression by the greatest mystical 
poet of modern times, is familiar to thousands of readers who 
know little or nothing of the more normal adventures incidental 
to man's attainment of the Absolute. In " The Hound of 
Heaven " Francis Thompson described with an almost terrible 
power, not the selfs quest of adored Reality, but Reality's quest 
of the unwilling self. He shows to us the remorseless, tireless 
seeking and following of the soul by the Divine Life to which 
it will not surrender : the inexorable onward sweep of " this 
tremendous Lover," hunting the separated spirit, "strange 
piteous futile thing " that flees Him " down the nights and down 
the days." This idea of the love-chase, of the spirit rushing in 
terror from the overpowering presence of God, but followed, 
sought, conquered in the end, is common to all the mediaeval 
mystics : it is the obverse of their general doctrine of the 
necessary fusion of human and divine life, " escape from the 
flame of separation." 

" I chased thee, for in this was my pleasure," says the voice 
of Love to Mechthild of Magdeburg ; " I captured thee, for this 
was my desire ; I bound thee, and I rejoice in thy bonds ; I 
have wounded thee, that thou mayst be united to me. If I 
gave thee blows, it was that I might be possessed of thee," 3 

1 " The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. xv. 

2 " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. i. cap. iii. 



162 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

So in the beautiful Middle English poem of " Quia amore 
langueo," — 

"I am true love that fals was nevere, 
Mi sistyr, mannis soule, I loved hir thus; 
Bicause we wolde in no wise discevere 
I lefte my Kyngdom glorious. 
I purveyde for hir a paleis precious; 
She fleyth, I folowe, I soughte hir so. 
I suftride this peyne piteous 
Quia amore langueo." * 

Meister Eckhart has the same idea of the inexorable Following 
Love, impossible to escape, expressed under less personal 
images. " Earth," he says, " cannot escape the sky ; let it flee 
up or down, the sky flows into it, and makes it fruitful whether 
it will or no. So God does to man. He who will escape Him 
only runs to His bosom ; for all corners are open to Him." 2 

All mystics have very strongly this sense of a mysterious 
spiritual life — a Reality — without, seeking man and compelling 
him to Its will. It is not for him, they think, to say that he 
will or will not aspire to the transcendental world.3 Hence 
sometimes this inversion of man's long quest of God. The 
self resists the pull of spiritual gravitation, flees from the touch 
of Eternity ; and the Eternal seeks it, tracks it ruthlessly down. 
The Following Love, the mystics say, is a fact of experience, 
not a poetic idea. " Those strong feet that follow, follow after," 
once set upon the chase, are bound to win. Man, once conscious 
of Reality, cannot evade it. For a time his separated spirit, 
his disordered loves, may wilfully frustrate the scheme of 
things : but he must be conquered in the end. Then the mystic 
process unfolds itself inexorably : Love triumphs : the " purpose 
of the worlds " fulfills itself in the individual life. 



II 

It was natural and inevitable that the imagery of human 
love and marriage should have seemed to the mystic the best of 

1 "Quia amore langueo," an anonymous fifteenth-century poem. Printed from 
the Lambeth MS. by the E.E.T.S., 1866-67. 

2 Pred. lxxxviii. 

3 So we are told of St. Francis of Assisi, that in his youth he l< tried to flee GooTs 
hand." Thomas of Celano, Legenda Prima, cap. ii. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 163 

all images of his own " fulfilment of life" ; his soul's surrender, 
first to the call, finally to the embrace of Perfect Love. It lay- 
ready to his hand : it was understood of all men : and, more- 
over, it most certainly does offer, upon lower levels, a strangely 
exact parallel to the sequence of states in which man's spiritual 
consciousness unfolds itself, and which form the consummation 
of the mystic life. * 

It has been said that the constant use of such imagery by 
Christian mystics of the mediaeval period is traceable to the 
popularity of the Song of Solomon. I think that the truth lies 
rather in the opposite statement : namely, that the mystic loved 
the Song of Solomon because he there saw reflected, as in a 
mirror, the most secret experiences of his soul. The sense of 
a desire that was insatiable, of a personal fellowship so real, 
inward, and intense that it could only be compared with the 
closest link of human love, of an intercourse that was no mere 
spiritual self-indulgence, but was rooted in the primal duties and 
necessities of life — more, those deepest, most intimate secrets of 
communion, those self-giving ecstasies which all mystics know, 
but of which we, who are not mystics, may not speak — all these 
he found symbolized and suggested, their unendurable glories 
veiled in a merciful mist, in the poetry which man has invented 
to honour that august passion in which the merely human draws 
nearest to the divine. 

The great saints who adopted and elaborated this symbo- 
lism, applying it to their pure and ardent passion for the 
Absolute, were destitute of the prurient imagination which their 
modern commentators too often possess. They were essen- 
tially pure of heart ; and when they " saw God " they were so 
far from confusing that unearthly vision with the products of 
morbid sexuality, that the dangerous nature of the imagery 
which they employed did not occur to them. They knew by 
experience the unique nature of spiritual love : and no one can 
know anything about it in any other way. 

Thus for St. Bernard, throughout his deeply mystical sermons 
on the Song of Songs, the Divine Word is the Bridegroom, the 
human soul is the Bride : but how different is the effect pro- 
duced by his use of these symbols from that with which he has 
been charged by hostile critics ! In the place of that " sensuous 
imagery " which is so often and so earnestly deplored by those 



164 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

who have hardly a nodding acquaintance with the writings of 
the saints, we find images which indeed have once been 
sensuous ; but which are here anointed and ordained to a holy 
office, carried up, transmuted, and endowed with a radiant 
purity, an intense and spiritual life. 

" ' Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth' Who is it 
speaks these words? It is the Bride. Who is the Bride? It 
is the Soul thirsting for God. . . . She who asks this is held by 
the bond of love to him from whom she asks it. Of all the 
sentiments of nature, this of love is the most excellent, espe- 
cially when it is rendered back to Him who is the principle and ' 
fountain of it — that is, God. Nor are there found any expres- 
sions equally sweet to signify the mutual affection between the 
Word of God and the soul, as those of Bridegroom and of Bride; 
inasmuch as between individuals who stand in such relation to 
each other all things are in common, and they possess nothing 
separate or divided. They have one inheritance, one dwelling- 
place, one table, and they are in fact one flesh. If, then, 
mutual love is especially befitting to a bride and bridegroom, it 
is not unfitting that the name of Bride is given to a soul which 
loves." * 

To women mystics of the Catholic Church, familiar with the 
antique and poetic metaphor which called every cloistered nun 
the Bride of Christ, that crisis in their spiritual history in which 
they definitely vowed themselves to the service of Transcendent 
Reality seemed, naturally enough, the veritable betrothal of the 
soul. Often, in a dynamic vision, they saw as in a picture the 
binding vows exchanged between their spirits and their God. 2 
That further progress on the mystic way which brought with 
it a sharp and permanent consciousness of union with the 
Divine Will, the constant sustaining presence of a Divine 
Companion, became, by an extension of the original simile, 
Spiritual Marriage. The elements of duty, constancy, irre- 
vocableness, and loving obedience involved in the mediaeval 
conception of the marriage tie, made it an apt image of a 
spiritual state in which humility, intimacy, and love were the 
dominant characteristics. There is really no need to seek a 
pathological explanation of these simple facts. Moreover, the 

1 St. Bernard, ** Cantica Canticorum," Sermon vii. 

2 Vide infra, pt. ii. cap. v. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM l6o 

descriptions of spiritual marriage which the great mystics have 
left are singularly free from physical imagery. ' All that I can 
say of it, and all that I understand of it," says St. Teresa, " is 
that the soul, or rather the Spirit of the Soul [the divine spark, 
or part], becomes one thing with God. That He may show how 
much He loves us, God, Who is also spirit, has desired to show 
to certain souls how far this love can go : and this, that we may 
be excited to praise His generosity. Despite His infinite 
Majesty, He condescends to unite Himself so closely to a 
feeble creature, that, like those whom the sacrament of marriage 
has united in an irrevocable bond, He would never again be 
separated from her. After the spiritual betrothal it is not thus : 
more than once the lovers separate. In the spiritual marriage, 
on the contrary, the soul dwells always with God, in that centre 
which I have described." r 

The great Richard of St. Victor, in one of his most splendid 
mystical treatises, 2 has given us perhaps the most daring and 
detailed application of the symbolism of marriage to the 
adventures of the spirit of man. He divides the "steep 
stairway of love," by which the contemplative ascends to union 
with the Absolute, into four stages. These he calls the betrothal, 
the marriage, the wedlock, and the fruitfulness of the soul.3 In 
the betrothal, he says, the soul " thirsts for the Beloved " ; that 
is to say, it longs to experience the delights of Reality. " The 
Spirit comes to the Soul, and seems sweeter than honey." It 
is conversion, the awakening to mystical truth ; the kindling of 
the passion for the Absolute. " Then the Soul, with pertinacity 
demands more " : and because of her burning desire she attains 
to pure contemplation, and so passes to the second degree of 
love. In this she is "led in bridal" by the Beloved. Ascend- 
ing "above herself" in contemplation, she "sees the Sun of 
Righteousness." She is now confirmed in the mystic life ; the 
irrevocable marriage vows are made between her spirit and her 
God. At this point she can " see the Beloved," but " cannot yet 



1 " El Castillo Interior," Moradas S^timas, cap. ii. 
" De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis " (Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 
exevi. col. 1207). 

3 " In primo gradu fit desponsatio, in secundo nuptiae, in tertio copula, in quarto 
puerperium. . . . De quarto dicitur, Concepimus, et quasi parturivimus et peperimus 
spiritum " (Isa. xviii. 26). [Ot>. «'/., 1 2 16, D.) 



166 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

come In to Him," says Richard. This degree, as we shall see 
later, answers more or less to that which other mystics call the 
Illuminative Way : but any attempt to press these poetic 
symbols into a cast-iron series, and establish exact parallels, is 
foredoomed to failure, and will merely succeed in robbing them 
of their fragrance and suggestive power. In Richard's " third 
stage," however, that of union, or wedlock, it is clear that the 
soul enters upon the " Unitive Way." She has passed the 
stages of ecstatic and significant events, and is initiated into 
the Life. She is "deified," "passes utterly into God, and is 
glorified in Him" : is transfigured, he says, by immediate con- 
tact with the Divine Substance, into an utterly different quality 
of being. " Thus," says St. John of the Cross, " the soul, when 
it shall have driven away from itself all that is contrary to the 
divine will, becomes transformed in God by love." x 

" The Soul," says Richard again, " is utterly concentrated on 
the One." She is " caught up to the divine light." The expres- 
sion of the personal passion, the intimate relation, here rises to 
its height. But this is not enough. Where most mystical 
diagrams leave off, Richard of St Victor's " Steep stairway of 
Love " goes on : with the result that this is almost the only 
symbolic system bequeathed to us by the great contemplatives 
in which all the implications contained in the idea of the 
spiritual marriage have been worked out to their term. He 
saw clearly that the union of the soul with its Source could not 
be a barren ecstasy. That was to mistake a means for an end ; 
and to frustrate the whole intention of life, which is, on all 
levels, fruitful and creative. Therefore he says that in the fourth 
degree, the Bride who has been so greatly honoured, caught up 
to such unspeakable delight, sinks her own will and " is 
humiliated below herself." She accepts the pains and duties 
in the place of the raptures of love ; and becomes a source, a 
" parent " of fresh spiritual life. The Sponsa Dei develops into 
the Mater Divines gratice. That imperative need of life, to 
push on, to create, to spread, is here seen operating in the 
spiritual sphere. This forms that rare and final stage in the 
evolution of the great mystics, in which they return to 
the world which they forsook ; and there live, as it were, 
as centres of transcendental energy, the creators of spiritual 

x " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. v. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 167 

families, the partners and fellow-labourers with the Divine 
Life.* 

Ill 

We come now to the symbols which have been adopted by 
those mystics in whom temperamental consciousness of their 
own imperfection, and of the unutterable perfection of the 
Absolute Life to which they aspired, has overpowered all other 
aspects of man's quest of reality. The "seek, and ye shall 
find " of the pilgrim, the " by Love shall He be gotten and 
holden " of the bride, can never seem an adequate description 
of experience to minds of this type. They are intent on the 
inexorable truth which must be accepted in some form by both 
these classes : the crucial fact that " we behold that which 
we are," or, in other words, that " only the Real can know 
Reality." Hence the state of the inward man, the "unreal- 
ness " of him when judged by any transcendental standard, 
is their centre of interest. His remaking or regeneration 
appears to them as the primal necessity, if he is ever to obtain 
rights of citizenship in the " country of the soul." 

We have seen that this idea of the New Birth, the remaking 
or transmutation of the self, clothed in many different symbols, 
runs through the whole of mysticism and much of theology. 
It is the mystic's subjective reading of those necessary psycho- 
logical changes which he observes taking place within himself 
as his spiritual consciousness grows. His hard work of 
renunciation, of detachment from the things which that con- 
sciousness points out as illusory or impure, his purifications 
and trials, all form part of it. If that which is whole or perfect 
is to come, then that which is in part must be done away : 
" for in what measure we put off the creature, in the same 
measure are we able to put on the Creator : neither more 
nor less." 2 

Of all the symbolic systems in which this truth has been 
enshrined none is so complete, so picturesque, and now so little 
understood as that of the " Hermetic Philosophers " or Spiritual 
Alchemists. This fact would itself be sufficient to justify us 
in examining some of the chief features of their symbolism. 

1 Vide infra, pt. ii. caps. i. and x. 

2 "Theologia Germanica," cap. i. 



108 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

There is a further excuse for this apparently eccentric pro- 
ceeding, however, in the fact that the language of alchemy was 
largely — though not always accurately and consistently — used 
by the great mystic Jacob Boehme, and after him by his English 
disciple, William Law. Without, then, some knowledge of the 
terms which they employed, but seldom explained, the writings 
of this important school can hardly be understood. 

I do not propose in this place to enter upon a long and 
detailed discussion of the alchemic symbols and their applica- 
tion to the mystic life. These symbols are full of an often 
deliberate obscurity, which makes their exact interpretation a 
controversial matter at the best. Moreover, the various authors 
of the Hermetic writings do not always use them in the same 
sense, and whilst many of these writings are undoubtedly mys- 
tical, others clearly deal with the physical quest of gold : nor 
have we any sure standard by which to divide class from class. 

The elements from which the spiritual alchemists built up 
their amazing allegories of the mystic life are, however, easily 
grasped : and these elements, together with the significance 
generally attributed to them, are as much as those who are 
not specialists can hope to unravel from this very tangled 
skein. First, there are the metals, of course the obvious 
materials of physical alchemy. These are usually called by 
the names of their presiding planets : thus in Hermetic language 
Luna means silver, Sol gold, &c. Then there is the Vessel, 
or Athanor, in which the transmutation of base metal to gold 
took place : an object whose exact nature is veiled in much 
mystery. The Fire and various solvents and waters, peculiar to 
the different alchemistic recipes, complete the apparatus neces- 
sary to the " Great Work." 

The process of this work, sometimes described in chemical, 
and sometimes in astrological terms, is more often than not 
veiled in a strange heraldic and zoological symbolism dealing 
with Lions, Dragons, Eagles, Vultures, Ravens and Doves : 
which, delightful in its picturesqueness, is unequalled in its power 
of confusing the anxious and unwary enquirer. It is also the 
subject of innumerable and deliberate allegories, which were 
supposed to convey its secrets to the elect, whilst most certainly 
concealing them from the crowd. Hence it is that the author 
of "A Short Enquiry concerning the Hermetic Art" speaks for 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 169 

all investigators of this subject when he describes the "Her- 
metic science " as a " great Labyrinth, in which are abundance of 
enquirers rambling to this day, many of them undiscerned by 
one another." Like him, I too "have taken several Turns in it 
myself, wherein one shall meet with very few ; for 'tis so large, 
and almost every one taking a different Path, that they seldom 
meet. But rinding it a very melancholy place, I resolved to get 
out of it, and rather content myself to walk in the little garden 
before the entrance, where many things, though not all, were 
orderly to be seen. Choosing rather to stay there, and con- 
template on the Metaphor set up, than venture again into the 
wilderness." * 

Coming, then, to the " Contemplation of the Metaphor set 
up," — by far the most judicious course for modern students of 
the Hermetic art — we observe first that the prime object of 
alchemy was held to be the production of the Philosopher's 
Stone; that perfect and incorrupt substance, or " noble Tincture," 
never found upon our imperfect earth in its natural state, which 
could purge all baser metals of their dross, and turn them to 
pure gold. The quest of the Stone, in fact, was but one aspect 
of man's everlasting quest of perfection, his hunger for the 
Absolute ; and hence an appropriate symbol of the mystic 
life. But this quest was not conducted in some far off tran- 
scendental kingdom. It was prosecuted in the Here and Now, 
amongst the ordinary things of natural life. 

Gold, the Crowned King, or Sol, as it is called in the 
planetary symbolism of the alchemists, was their standard of 
perfection, the "Perfect Metal." Towards it, as the Christian 
towards sanctity, their wills were set. It had for them a 
value not sordid but ideal. Nature, they thought, is always 
trying to make gold, this incorruptible and perfect thing ; and 
the other metals are merely the results of the frustration of her 
original design. Nor is this aiming at perfection and achieving 
of imperfection limited to the physical world. Quod superius, 
sicut quod inferius. Upon the spiritual plane also they held 
that the Divine Idea is always aiming at " Spiritual Gold " — 
divine humanity, the New Man, citizen of the transcendental 
world — and " natural man " as we ordinarily know him is a 
lower metal, silver at best, a departure from the " plan " ; who 
1 " A Short Enquiry Concerning the Hermetic Art," p. 29. 



170 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

yet bears within himself, if we could find it, the spark or seed 
of absolute perfection : the " tincture " which makes gold. " The 
smattering I have of the Philosopher's Stone," says Sir Thomas 
Browne, " (which is something more than the perfect exaltation 
of gold) hath taught me a great deal of divinity, and instructed 
my belief how that immortal spirit and incorruptible substance 
of my soul may lie obscure, and sleep awhile within this house 
of flesh." * This " incorruptible substance " is man's goldness, 
his perfect principle : for " the highest mineral virtue resides in 
Man," says Albertus Magnus, " and Gold may be found every 
where." 2 Hence the prosecution of a spiritual chemistry is a 
proper part of the true Hermetic science. 

The art of the alchemist, whether spiritual or physical, 
consists in completing the work of perfection, bringing forth 
and making dominant, as it were, the " latent goldness " which 
" lies obscure " in metal or man. The ideal adept of alchemy 
was therefore an " auxiliary of the Eternal Goodness." By his 
search for the " Noble Tincture " which should restore an 
imperfect world, he became a partner in the business of 
creation, assisting the Cosmic Plan. 

The proper art of the Spiritual Alchemist, with whom alone 
we are here concerned, was the production of the spiritual and 
only valid tincture or Philosopher's Stone, the mystic seed of 
transcendental life which should invade, tinge, and wholly 
transmute the imperfect self into spiritual gold. That this 
was no fancy of seventeenth-century allegorists, but an idea 
familiar to many of the oldest writers upon alchemy — whose 
quest was truly a spiritual search into the deepest secrets of the 
soul — is proved by the words which bring to an end the first 
part of the antique " Golden Treatise upon the Making of the 
Stone," sometimes attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. " This, 
O Son," says that remarkable tract, " is the Concealed Stone of 
Many Colours ; which is born and brought forth in one colour ; 
know this and conceal it ... it leads from darkness into light, 

1 " Religio Medici," pt. i. 

a "A Suggestive Enquiry into the Hermetic Mystery," p. 143. This rare and 
curious study of spiritual alchemy was the anonymous work of the late Mrs. Atwood, 
who attempted to suppress it soon after publication under the impression— common 
amongst mystics of a certain type — that she had revealed matters which might not 
be spoken of. In the same way Coventry Patmore destroyed his masterpiece, 
11 Sponsa Dei." 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 171 

from this desert wilderness to a secure habitation, and from 
poverty and straits to a free and ample fortune." x 

Man, then, was for the alchemists " the true laboratory of 
the Hermetic art " ; which concealed in an entanglement ot 
vague and contradictory symbols the life-process of his ascen- 
sion to that perfect state in which he was able to meet God. 
This state must not be confused with a merely moral purity. 
but must be understood as involving utter transmutation into 
a " new form." It naturally followed from this that the in- 
dwelling Christ, the " Corner Stone," the Sun of Righteousness, 
became, for many of the Christian alchemists, identified with 
the Lapis P kilos op horum and with Sol : and was regarded both 
as the image and as the earnest of this "great work." His 
spirit was the " noble tincture " which " can bring that which is 
lowest in the death to its highest ornament or glory," 2 trans- 
mutes the natural to the supernatural, operates the " New Birth." 
"This," says Boehme, "is the noble precious Stone {Lapis Philo- 
sophorum), the Philosopher's Stone, which the Magi (or wise 
men) find which tinctureth nature, and generateth a new son 
in the old. He who findeth that, esteemeth more highly 
of it than of this (outward) world. For the Son is many 
thousand times greater than the Father." Again, " If you 
take the spirit of the tincture, then indeed you go on a way 
in which many have found Sol ; but they have followed on 
the way to the heart of Sol, where the spirit of the heavenly 
tincture hath laid hold on them, and brought them into the 
liberty, into the Majesty, where they have Known the Noble 
Stone, Lapis Philosophormn, the Philosopher's Stone, and 
have stood amazed at man's blindness, and seen his 
labouring in vain. Would you fain find the Noble Stone? 
Behold we will show it you plain enough, if you be a Magus, 
and worthy, else you shall remain blind still : therefore fall to 
work thus : for it hath no more but three numbers. First tell 
from one till you come to the Cross, which is ten (X) .... 
and there lieth the Stone without any great painstaking, for it is 
pure and not defiled with any earthly nature." 

"In this stone there lieth hidden, whatsoever God and the 

1 Quoted in " A Suggestive Enquiry into the Hermetic Mystery," p. 107. The 
whole of the "Golden Treatise " will be found set out in this work. 

2 Jacob Boehme, "The Threefold Life of Man," cap. iv. § 23. 



172 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Eternity, also heaven, the stars and elements contain and are 
able to do. There never was from eternity anything better or 
more precious than this, and it is offered by God and bestowed 
upon man ; every one may have it ... it is in a simple form, 
and hath the power of the whole Deity in it." " 

Boehme, however, is here using alchemic symbols, according 
to his custom, in a loose and artistic manner; for the true 
Hermetic Philosopher's Stone is not something which can be 
found but something which must be made. The alchemists, 
whether their search be for a physical or a spiritual " tincture," 
say always that this tincture is the product of the furnace 
and Athanor : and further that it is composed of " three num- 
bers " or elements, which they call Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury. 
These, when found, and forced into the proper combination, 
form the " Azoth " or " Philosopher's Egg "—the stuff or First 
Matter of the Great Work. Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury, how- 
ever, must not be understood in too literal a sense. 

" You need not look for our metallic seed among the 
elements," says Basil the Monk, " it need not be sought so far 
back. If you can only rectify the Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt 
(understand those of the sages) until the metallic spirit and body 
are inseparably joined together by means of the metallic soul, 
you thereby firmly rivet the chain of love and prepare the palace 
for the Coronation." 2 

Of these three ingredients, the important one is the spiritual 
principle, the unseizable Mercury ; which is far from being the 
metal which we ordinarily know by that name. The Mercury 
which the alchemists sought — often in strange places — is a 
hidden and powerful substance. They call it " Mercury of the 
Wise " ; and he who can discover it, they say, is on the way 
towards success. The reader in search of mystical wisdom 
already begins to be bewildered ; but if he persevere in this 
labyrinth of symbolism, he presently discovers — as Basil the 
Monk indeed hints — that the Sulphur and the Salt, or " metallic 
soul and body " of the spiritual chemistry, represent something 
analogous to the body and mind of man — Sulphur his earthly 

1 Boehme, "The Threefold Life of Man," cap. vi. § 98; cap. x. §§ 3, 4 ; and 
cap. xiii. § 1. 

3 "The Golden Tripod of the Monk Basilius Valentinus " (The Hermetic Museum, 
vol. i. p. 319). 






MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 173 

nature, seasoned with intellectual salt. The Mercury is Spirit in 
its most mystic sense, the Synteresis or holy Dweller in the Inner- 
most, the immanent spark or Divine Principle of his life. Only 
the " wise," the mystically awakened, can know this Mercury, 
the agent of man's transmutation : and until it has been discovered, 
brought out of the hiddenness, nothing can be done. " This 
Mercury or Snowy Splendour, is a Celestial Body drawn from 
the beams of the Sun and the Moon. It is the only Agent in 
the world for this art." x It is the divine-human " spark of the 
soul," the bridge between Gold and Silver, God and Man. 

The Three Principles being enclosed in the vessel, or 
Athanor, which is man himself, and subjected to a gentle fire 
— the Incendium Amoris — the process of the Great Work, the 
mystic transmutation of natural into spiritual man, can begin. 
This work, like the ingredients which compose it, has "three 
numbers " : and the first matter, in the course of its transmu- 
tation, assumes three successive colours: the Black, the White, 
and the Red. These three colours are strictly analogous to the 
three traditional stages of the Mystic Way : Purgation, Illumin- 
ation, Union. 

The alchemists call the first stage, or Blackness, Putre- 
faction. In it the three principles which compose the "whole 
man " of body, soul and spirit, are " sublimated " till they appear 
as a black powder full of corruption, and the imperfect body is 
"dissolved and purified by subtle Mercury"; as man is purified by 
the darkness, misery, and despair which follows the emergence 
of his spiritual consciousness. As psychic uproar and disorder 
seems part of the process of mental growth, so " Solve et coagula" 
— break down that you may build up — is the watchword of the 
spiritual alchemist. The " black beast," the passional element, 
of the lower nature must emerge and be dealt with before any- 
thing further can be done. " There is a black beast in our 
forest," says the highly allegorical " Book of Lambspring," " his 
name is Putrefaction, his blackness is called the Plead of the 
Raven ; when it is cut off, Whiteness appears." 2 This White- 
ness, the state of Luna, or Silver, the " chaste and immaculate 
Queen," is the equivalent of the Illuminative Way : the highest 
point which the mystic can attain short of union with the 

1 " A Short Enquiry Concerning the Hermetic Art," p. 17. 

2 *' The Hermetic Museum," vol. i. p. 272. 



174 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Absolute. This White Stone is pure, and precious ; but in it 
the Great Work of man's spiritual evolution has not yet reached 
its term. That term is the attainment of the Red, the colour of 
Perfection or alchemic gold ; a process sometimes called the 
" Marriage of Luna and Sol " — the fusion of the human and 
divine spirit. Under this image is concealed the final secret of 
the mystic life : that ineffable union of finite and infinite — that 
loving reception of the inflowing vitality of God — from which 
comes forth the Magnum Opus : deified or spiritual man. 

" This," says the author of " A Suggestive Enquiry," " is the 
union supersentient, the nuptials sublime, Mentis et Universi. . . . 
Lo ! behold I will open to thee a mystery, cries the Adept, the 
bridegroom crowneth the bride of the north [*>., she who comes 
out of the cold and darkness of the lower nature]. In the 
darkness of the north, out of the crucifixion of the cerebral life, 
when the sensual dominant is occultated in the Divine Fiat, and 
subdued, there arises a Light wonderfully about the summit, 
which wisely returned and multiplied according to the Divine 
Blessing, is made substantial in life." x 

I have said, that side by side with the metallic and planetary 
language of the alchemists, runs a strange heraldic symbolism 
in which they take refuge when they fear— generally without 
reason — that they are telling their secrets too plainly to an 
unregenerate world. Many of these heraldic emblems are used 
in an utterly irresponsible manner ; and whilst doubtless con- 
veying a meaning to the individual alchemist and the disciples 
for whom he wrote, are, and must ever be, unintelligible to other 
men. But others are of a more general application ; and appear 
so frequently in seventeenth-century literature, whether mystical 
or non-mystical, that some discussion of them may well be 
of use. 

erhaps the quaintest and most celebrated of all these 
allegories is that which describes the quest of the Philosopher's 
Stone as the " hunting of the Green Lion." 2 The Green Lion, 
though few would divine it, is the First Matter of the Great 
Work : hence, in spiritual alchemy, natural man in his whole- 

1 " A Suggestive Enquiry," p. 354. 

a See "A Short Enquiry," p. 17, and " A Suggestive Enquiry," pp. 297 ct seq. 
where the rhymed Alchemic tract called "Hunting the Greene Lyon" is printed 
in full. 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 175 

ness — Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury in their crude state. He is 
called green because, seen from the transcendent standpoint, he 
is still unripe, his latent powers undeveloped ; and a Lion, 
because of his strength, fierceness, and virility. Here the 
common opinion that a pious effeminacy, a diluted and amiable 
spirituality, is the proper raw material of the mystic life, is 
emphatically contradicted. It is not by the education of the 
lamb, but by the hunting and taming of the wild intractable 
lion, instinct with vitality, full of ardour and courage, exhibiting 
heroic qualities on the sensual plane, that the Great Work is 
achieved. The lives of the saints enforce the same law. 



M Our lyon wanting maturitie 
Is called greene for his unripeness trust me 
And yet full quickly he can run, 
And soon can overtake the Sun." * 



The Green Lion, then, in his strength and wholeness is the 
only creature potentially able to attain Perfection. It needs the 
adoption and purification of all the wealth and resources of 
man's nature, not merely the encouragement of his transcen- 
dental tastes, if he is to overtake it and achieve the Great Work. 
The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, not by amiable 
aspiration. "The Green Lion," says one alchemist, "is the 
priest by whom Sol and Luna are wed." In other words, the 
raw stuff of indomitable human nature is the means by which 
man is to attain union with the Absolute. 

The duty of the alchemist, then, the transmuting process, is 
described as the hunting of the Green Lion through the forest 
of the sensual world. He, like the Hound of Heaven, is on a 
love chase down the nights and down the days. 

When the lion is caught, when Destiny overtakes it, as the 
preliminary to the necessary taming process, its head must be 
cut off. This is called by the alchemists "the head of the 
Raven," the Crow, or the Vulture, " for its blackness." It 
represents the fierce and corrupt life of the passions : and its 
removal is that " death of the lower nature " which is the object 
of all asceticism — i.e. Purgation. The lion, the whole man, 
Humanity in its strength, is as it were "slain to the world," 

1 Op. cit. 



176 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and then resuscitated ; but in a very different shape. By its 
passage through this mystic death or the "putrefaction of the 
Three Principles " the " colour of unripeness " is taken away. 
Its taming completed, it receives wings, wherewith it may fly 
up to Sol, the Perfect or Divine ; and is transmuted, say the 
alchemists, into the Red Dragon. This is of course to us a 
hopelessly grotesque image : but to the Hermetic philosophers, 
whose sense of wonder was yet uncorrupt, it was the deeply 
mystical emblem of a new, strange, and transcendental life, 
powerful alike in earth and in heaven. As the angel to the 
man, so was the dragon to the world of beasts : a creature of 
splendour and terror, a super-brute, veritably existent if seldom 
seen. We may perhaps realize something of the significance of 
this symbol for the alchemic writers, if we remember how sacred 
a meaning it has for the Chinese : to whom it is the traditional 
emblem of free spiritual life, as the tiger represents the life of 
the material plane in its intensest form. Since it is from China 
that the practice of alchemy is supposed to have reached the 
European world, it may yet be found that the Red Dragon is 
one of the most antique and significant symbols of the Her- 
metic Art. 

For the Spiritual Chemistry, then, the Red Dragon repre- 
sents Deified Man ; whose emergence must always seem like 
the birth of some monstrous and amazing creature when seen 
from the standpoint of the merely natural world. With his 
coming forth, the business of the alchemist, in so far as he be a 
mystic, is done. Man has transcended his lower nature, has 
received wings wherewith to live on higher levels of reality. 
The Tincture, the latent goldness, has been found and made 
dominant, the Magnum Opus achieved. That the true and 
inward business of that Work, when stripped of its many 
emblematic veils, was indeed the reordering of spiritual rather 
than material elements, is an opinion which rests on a more 
solid foundation than personal interpretations of old allegories 
and alchemic tracts. The Norwich physician — himself deeply 
read in the Hermetic science — has declared to us his own 
certainty concerning it in few but lovely words. In them is 
contained the true mystery of man's eternal and interior quest 
of the Stone : its reconciliation with that other, outgoing quest 
of "the Hidden Treasure that desires to be found." 



MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM 177 

" Do but extract from the corpulency of bodies, or resolve 
things beyond their First Matter, and you discover the habita- 
tion of Angels : which, if I call it the ubiquitary and omni- 
present Essence of God, I hope I shall not offend Divinity." x 

1 Sir Thomas Browne, " Religio Medici," pt. i. 



CHAPTER VII 

MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 

Persistence of occultism — It accompanies mystical activity — is often confused with 
it — It is a serious philosophy — Its claim stated and criticized — Its limits — It does not 
attain the Absolute — It influences all religion and some science — It is based on 
psychological laws — Its aim is to enlarge man's universe — Its method is enhance- 
ment of the will — Modern magic — " New " Thought — The doctrines of Magic — 
Eliphas Levi — Hermes Trismegistus — Three occult dogmas — (i) The Astral Light — 
antiquity of this idea — The Cosmic memory — The "universal agent" — (2) The 
Power of the Will — Occult education — a re-making of character — Magic ceremonies 
agents of will-enhancement — addressed to the subconscious mind — Value of 
liturgies — Symbols — they are (a) instruments of self-suggestion (b) autoscopes — 
J^stffr (3) The Doctrine of Analogy — Its breadth of application — in mysticism — in art — 
' '**' Abnormal power of the trained will over the body — in religion — in producing 
transcendental consciousness — Mental healing purely magical — Attitude of occultism 
to suffering — The pure theory of magic — its defects — its influence on character — 
Magic and religion — Occult elements in Christianity — Ceremonial religion largely 
magical — This is necessarily so — The inner and the outer church — The Church of 
Mysticism and Church of Magic 

IT seems hardly necessary to examine in detail the mistakes 
— or, in ecclesiastical language, the heresies — into which 
men have been led by a feeble, a deformed, or an arrogant 
mystical sense. The number of such mistakes is countless ; 
their wildness almost inconceivable to those who have not been 
forced to study them. Too often it has happened that the loud 
voices and strange declarations of their apostles have drowned 
the quieter accents of the orthodox. 

It would seem as though the moment of puberty were far 
more critical in the spiritual than it is in the physical life : the 
ordinary dangers of adolescence being intensified when they 
appear upon the higher levels of consciousness. Man, becom- 
ing aware of a new power and new desires within him, abruptly 
subjected to the influx of new life, is dazzled and pleased by 
every brilliant and fantastic guess, every invitation, which is 

178 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 179 

offered to him. In the condition of psychic disorder which 
is characteristic of his movement to new states, he is unusually 
at the mercy of the suggestions and impressions which he 
receives. Hence in every period of mystical activity we find 
an outbreak of occultism, illuminism, or other perverted spiritu- 
ality. In the youth of the Christian Church, side by side with 
the great Neoplatonists, we have the arrogant and disorderly 
transcendentalism of the Gnostics: their attempted fusion of the 
ideals of mysticism and magic. During the Middle Ages and 
the Renaissance there is the spurious mysticism of the Brethren 
of the Free Spirit, the occult propaganda of Paracelsus, the 
Rosicrucians, the Christian Kabalists ; and the innumerable 
pantheistic, Manichean, mystery-making, and Quietist heresies 
which made war upon Catholic tradition. Usually owing their 
existence to the undisciplined will and imagination of some 
individual adventurer, these died with the death of his influence, 
and only the specialist in strange faiths now cares to trouble 
their graves. 

But it is otherwise with the root idea whence these perverse 
activities most usually develop. This cannot be so easily dis- 
missed, nor is it in our interest so to treat it ; for, as Reality 
is best defined by means of negatives, so the right doctrine is 
often more easily understood after a consideration of the wrong. 
In the case of mysticism, which deals largely with the unutter- 
able, and where language at once exact and affirmative is 
particularly hard to find, such a course is almost certain to 
help us. Leaving therefore the specifically mystical error of 
Quietism until we come to the detailed discussion of the states 
of orison, we will consider some of those other super-normal 
activities of the self which we have already agreed to classify as 
magic : x and learn through them more of the hidden forces 
which she has at her command, the dangerous liberty which she 
enjoys in their regard. 

The word " magic " is now out of fashion, though its spirit 
was never more widely diffused than at the present time. 
Thanks to the gradual debasement of the verbal currency, it 
suggests to the ordinary reader the art practised by Mr. 
Maskelyne. The shelf which is devoted to its literature at 
the London Library contains many useful works on sleight-of- 

1 Suj>ra t p. 84. 



180 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

hand and parlour tricks. It has dragged with it in its fall the 
terrific verb "to conjure," which, forgetting that it once com- 
pelled the spirits of men and angels, is now content to produce 
rabbits from top-hats. This circumstance would have little 
more than philological importance, were it not that the true 
adepts of modern occultism — annoyed, one supposes, by this 
abuse of their ancient title — tend more and more to arrogate to 
their tenets and practices the name of " Mystical Science." 
Vaughan, in his rather supercilious survey of the mystics, long 
ago classed all forms of white magic, alchemy, and occult 
philosophy as " theurgic mysticism," x and, on the other side of 
the shield, the occultists display an increasing eagerness to claim 
the mystics as masters in their school. 2 Even the " three-fold 
way " of mysticism has been adopted by them, and relabelled 
" Probation, Enlightenment, Initiation." 3 

In our search for the characteristics of mysticism we have 
already marked the boundary which separates it from magic : 
and tried to define the true nature and intention of occult 
philosophy.4 Now, I think, we may usefully ask of magic 
in its turn what it can tell us of the transcendental powers 
and consciousness of man. We saw that it represented the 
instinctive human "desire to know more" applied to supra- 
sensible things. For good or ill this desire and the occult 
sciences and magic arts which express it, have haunted 
humanity from the earliest times. No student of man dare 
neglect their investigation, however distasteful to his intelli- 
gence their superficial absurdities may be. 

The starting-point of all magic and of all magical religion — 
the best and purest of occult activities — is, as in mysticism, 
man's inextinguishable conviction that there are other planes 
of being than those which his senses report to him ; and its 
proceedings represent the intellectual and individualistic results 
of this conviction — his craving for the hidden knowledge. It 
is, in the eyes of those who practise it, a moyen de parvenir: 
not the performance of illicit tricks, but a serious and philo- 

1 R. A. Vaughan, " Hours with the Mystics," vol. i. bk. i. ch. v. 

* In a list published by Papus from the archives of the Martinists, we find such 
diverse names as Averroes, St. Thomas Aquinas, Vincent of Beauvais, and Sweden- 
borg, given as followers of the occult tradition ! 

3 See R. Steiner, "The Way of Initiation," p. in. 

4 Supra, loc. cit. 






MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 181 

sophic attempt to solve the riddle of the world. Its result, 
according to one of the best modern writers upon occult philo- 
sophy, " comprises an actual, positive, and realizable knowledge 
concerning the worlds which we denominate invisible, because 
they transcend the imperfect and rudimentary faculties of a 
partially developed humanity, and concerning the latent poten- 
tialities which constitute, by the fact of their latency — the^ 
interior man. In more strictly philosophical language, the 
Hermetic science is a method of transcending the phenomenal 
world and attaining to the reality which is behind phenomena." J 

Though certain parts of this enormous claim seem able 
to justify themselves in experience, the whole of it cannot be 
admitted. The last phrase in particular is identical with the 
promise which we have seen to be characteristic of mysticism. 
It presents magic as a pathway to reality. We may as well 
say at once that this promise is not fulfilled ; for the apparent 
transcending of phenomena does not necessarily entail the 
attainment of the Absolute. Such an attainment must, as its 
first condition, meet and satisfy upon the plane of reality each 
activity of the self: Love, Will, and Thought. Magic at its 
best only satisfies two of these claimants ; and this by extend- 
ing rather than escaping the boundaries of the phenomenal 
world. At its worst, it satisfies none. It stands for that form 
of transcendentalism which does abnormal things, but does not 
lead anywhere : and we are likely to fall victims to some kind 
of magic the moment that the declaration " I want to know " 
ousts the declaration " I want to be " from the chief place in 
our consciousness. The true " science of ultimates " must be a 
science of pure Being, for reasons which the reader is now 
in a position to discover for himself: but magic is merely a 
system whereby the self tries to assuage its transcendental 
curiosity by an extension of the activities of the will beyond 
their usual limits, obtaining by this means experimental know- 
ledge of planes of existence usually — but inaccurately — regarded 
as " supernatural." 

It will, no doubt, be felt by those who are not occultists that 
even this modified claim needs justification. Few recognize 
that the whole business of the true magician is not with vulgar 
marvels, but with transcendental matters : fewer still that this 

1 A. E. Waite, "The Occult Sciences," p. I. 



182 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

business may be prosecuted with honesty and success. The 
search after hidden things has become synonymous with foolish 
and disreputable deceits : and the small but faithful company 
of Thrice-great Hermes is confused with the army of camp- 
followers which preys upon its ranks. 

Most persons who do not specialize in the eccentric sciences 
are of opinion that in these days the occultist can only be said 
to exist in either the commercial or the academic sense. The 
Bond Street palmist may represent one class; the annotator 
of improper grimoires the other. In neither department is the 
thing supposed to be taken seriously : it is merely the means 
of obtaining money or of assuaging a rather morbid curiosity. 

Such a view is far from being accurate. In magic, whether 
we choose to regard it as a superstition or a science, we have 
at any rate the survival of a great and ancient tradition, the 
true splendour and meaning of whose title should hardly have 
been lost in a Christian country ; for it claims to be the 
science of those Magi whose quest of the symbolic Blazing 
Star brought them once, at l^.ast, to the cradle of the In- 
carnate God. Its laws, and the ceremonial rites which express 
those laws, have come down to us from immemorial antiquity. 
They enshrine a certain definite knowledge, and a large 
number of less definite theories, concerning the sensual and 
supersensual worlds, and concerning powers which man, 
according to occult thinkers, may develop if he will. Ortho- 
dox persons should be careful how they condemn the laws of 
magic : for they unwittingly conform to many of them whenever 
they go to church. All formal religion is saturated with magic. 
The art of medicine will never wholly cast it off: many cen- 
turies ago it gave birth to that which we now call modern 
science. It seems to possess inextinguishable life. This is 
not surprising when we perceive how firmly occultism is rooted 
in psychology : how perfectly it is adapted to certain perennial 
characteristics of the human mind — its curiosity, its arrogance, 
its love of mystery. 

Magic, in its perfect and uncorrupted form, claims to be a 
practical, intellectual, highly individualistic science, working 
towards a declared end : that, namely, of enlarging the sphere 
on which the will of man can work and obtaining experimental 
knowledge of planes of being usually regarded as transcen- 






MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 183 

dental It is the last descendant of a long line of teaching — 
the whole teaching, in fact, of the mysteries of Egypt and 
Greece — which aims at initiating man into the secrets of 
knowledge, and aspires, egoistically, to an understanding of 
things. " In every man," says a living occultist, " there are 
latent faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself 
knowledge of the higher worlds ... as long as the human 
race has existed there have always been schools in which 
those who possessed these higher faculties gave instruction 
to those who were in search of them. Such are called the 
occult schools, and the instruction which is imparted therein 
is called esoteric science or the occult teaching." * 

These schools, at least as they exist in the present day, 
formulate the laws which govern occult phenomena in a manner 
which seems distressingly prosaic to the romantic inquirer ; 
borrowing from physics and psychology theories of vibration, 
attraction, mental suggestion and subconscious activity which 
can be reapplied for their own purposes. 

According to its modern teachers, magic is in essence 
simply an extension of the theory and practice of volition < 
beyond the usual limits. The will, says the occultist, is king, i 
not only of the House of Life, but of the universe outside the 
gates of sense. It is the key to " man limitless " ; the true 
" ring of Gyges," which can control the forces of nature, known 
and unknown. This aspect of occult philosophy informs much 
of the cheap American transcendentalism which is so lightly 
miscalled mystical by its teachers and converts ; Menticulture, 
" New " or " Higher Thought," and the scriptures of the so- 
called " New Consciousness." The ingenious authors of " Volo," 
"The Will to be Well," and "Just How to Wake the Solar - 
Plexus," the seers who assure their eager disciples that by 
" Concentration " they may acquire not only health but also 
that wealth which is " health of circumstance," are no mystics. 
They are magicians ; and teach, though they know it not, 
little else but the cardinal doctrines of Hermetic science, 
omitting only their picturesque ceremonial accompaniments. 2 

1 Steiner, " The Way of Initiation," p. 66. 

2 See E. Towne, "Joy Philosophy" (1903) and "Just How to Wake the Solar 
Plexus" (1904); R. D. Stocker, "New Thought Manual" (1906) and "Soul 
Culture" (1905); Floyd Wilson, " Man Limitless" (1905). But the literature of 
these sects is enormous. 



184 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

These cardinal doctrines, in fact, have varied little since 
their first appearance early in the world's history: though, 
like the doctrines of theology, they have needed re-statement 
from time to time. In setting them out for the enlightenment 
of the modern reader, I shall quote largely from the works of 
F.liphas L£vi ; the pseudonym under which Alphonse Louis 
Constant, probably the sanest and certainly the most readable 
occult philosopher of the nineteenth century, offered his con- 
clusions to the world. 

Eliphas Levi found in the old magical tradition, rehandled 
in the terms of contemporary thought, an adequate theory of 
the universe and rule of practical life. In his writings, there- 
fore, we see the Hermetic science under its most favourable 
aspect — Opus hierarchicum et Catholicum, as he proudly calls it 
upon the title-page of his great " Histoire de la Magie." It is 
the one object of his later works to exhibit — indeed to exag- 
gerate — its connection with true mysticism ; to show that it is 
" Le Clef des Grands Mysteres " which will open the gate of 
that Secret Garden on which the desire of the soul is ever set. 
The spectacle which he presents is that of a man of eager 
desires and natural intuitions, set, is is true, upon the quest 
of reality ; but pursuing that quest by strange and twisted 
paths. It remains for us to examine with his help the nature 
of these paths and the prospects which they offer to other 
wayfarers. 

The tradition of magic, like most other ways of escape 
which man has offered to his own soul, originated in the East. 
It was formulated, developed, and preserved by the religion of 
Egypt. It made an early appearance in that of Greece. It has 
its legendary grand master in Hermes Trismegistus, who gave 
to it its official name of Hermetic Science, and stands towards 
the magicians in much the same position as Moses occupied in 
the tradition of the Jews. Fragmentary writings attributed to 
this personage and contained in the so-called Hermetic books 
are the primitive scriptures of occultism : and the probably 
spurious Table of Emerald which is said to have been dis- 
covered in his tomb, ranks as the magician's Table of Stone. 
In Gnosticism, in the superb allegories of the Kabalah, in much 
of the ceremonial of the Christian Church — finally, in secret 
associations which still exist in England, France, and Germany 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 185 

— all that is best and truest in the " secret wisdom " of magical 
tradition has wandered down the centuries. Its baser offshoots, 
by which it is unfortunately represented to the crowd, are but 
too well known and need not be particularized. 

Like the world which it professes to interpret, magic has a 
body and a soul : an outward vesture of words and ceremonies 
and an inner doctrine. The outward vesture, which is all that 
the uninitiated are permitted to perceive, is hardly attractive* to 
the judicious eye of common sense. It consists of a series of 
confusing and often ridiculous symbolic veils : of strange words 
and numbers, grotesque laws and ritual acts, personifications 
and mystifications, wrapped one about the other as if the 
bewilderment of impatient investigators were its one design. 
The outward vestures of our religious, political, and social 
systems — which would probably appear equally irrational to a 
wholly ignorant yet critical observer — offer an instructive parallel 
to this aspect of occult philosophy. 

Stripped of these archaic formulae, symbols, mystery-mon- 
gerings, and other adventitious trappings, magic is found to 
rest upon three fundamental axioms ; none of which can be 
dismissed as ridiculous by those who listen respectfully to the 
amazing and ever-shifting hypotheses of fashionable psychology 
and physics. 

S (i) The first of these axioms affirms the existence of an 
imponderable " medium " or " universal agent," which is de- 
scribed as beyond the plane of our normal sensual perceptions 
yet interpenetrating and binding up the material world. This 
agent, which is not luminous and has nothing to do with the 
stars, is known to the occultists by the unfortunate name of 
"Astral Light": a term, originally borrowed from the Martinists 
by Eliphas LeVi, to which the religious rummage-sales of current 
theosophy have since given a familiarity which treads upon the 
margin of contempt. To live in conscious communication with 
the " Astral Light " is to live upon the " Astral Plane," or in the 
Astral World : to have risen, that is to say, to a new level of 
consciousness. The education of the occultist is wholly directed 
towards this end. 

This doctrine of the Astral Plane, like most of our other 
diagrams of the transcendent, possesses not only a respectable 
ancestry, but also many prosperous relations in the world of 



186 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

philosophic thought. Traces of it may even be detected under 
veils in the more recent speculations of orthodox physics. It is 
really identical with the " Archetypal World " or Yesod of the 
Kabalah — the " Perfect Land " of old Egyptian religion — in 
which exist the true or spirit forms of all created things. 
Perhaps it is connected with the "real world" described by 
such visionaries as Boehme and Blake. A persistent tradition 
as to the existence of such a plane of being or of consciousness 
is found all over the world : in Indian, Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, 
and Jewish thought. "Above this visible nature there exists 
another, unseen and eternal, which, when all things created 
perish, does not perish," says the Bhagavad Gita. According to 
the Kabalists it is " the seat of life and vitality, and the 
nourishment of all the world." x Vitalism might accept it as 
one of those aspects of the universe which can be perceived by 
a more extended rhythm than that of normal consciousness. 
Various aspects of it have been identified with the "Burning 
Body of the Holy Ghost " of Christian Gnosticism and with the 
Odic force of the old-fashioned spiritualists. 

According to the doctrine of magic the Astral Plane 
constitutes the " Cosmic Memory" where the images of all 
beings and events are preserved, as they are preserved in the 
memory of man. 



The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard, 
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky" — 



all are living in the Astral World. There too the concepts of 
future creation are present in their completeness in the Eternal 
Now, before being brought to birth in the material sphere. On 
this theory prophecy, and also clairvoyance — one of the great 
objects of occult education — consists in opening the eyes of the 
mind upon this timeless Astral World: and spiritualists, evoking 
the phantoms of the dead, merely call them up from the 
recesses of universal instead of individual remembrance. The 
reader who feels his brain to be whirling amidst this medley^ 
of solemn statement and unproven fairy tale must remember 
that at best the dogmatic part of the occult tradition can only 

x A. E. Waite, " Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah," p. 48. 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 187 

represent the attempt of an extended consciousness to find an 
explanation of its own experiences. / 

Further, in its strictly undenominational form, the Astral 
Light is first cousin to the intangible ether beloved of Sir Oliver 
Lodge and other transcendental physicists. In it our whole 
selves — not merely our sentient selves — are bathed ; and here 
again we are reminded of Vitalism, with its unresting River of 
Life. Hence in occult language the all-penetrating Astral is a 
" universal agent " : the possible vehicle of hypnotism, telepathy, 
clairvoyance, and all those supernormal phenomena which 
science has taken out of the hands of the occultists and re- 
named metapsychic. This hypothesis also accounts for the 
confusing fact of an initial similarity of experience in many 
of the proceedings of mystic and occultist. Both must pass 
through the plane of consciousness which the concept of the 
" Astral " represents, because this plane of perception is the one 
which lies " next beyond " our normal life. The transcendental 
faculties, once they are freed, become aware of this world : only, 
in the case of the mystic, to pass through it as quickly as they 
can. The occultist, on the contrary, is willing to rest in the 
"Astral" and develop his perceptions of this aspect of the world. 
It is the medium in which he works. 

From the earliest times, occult philosophy has proclaimed its 
knowledge of this medium : always describing its existence as a 
scientific fact, outside the range of our normal senses, but sus- 
ceptible of verification by the trained powers of the initiate. 
The possessor of such trained powers, not the wizard or the 
fortune-teller, is to be regarded as the true magician : and it is 
the first object of occult education, or initiation, to actualize this 
supersensual plane of experience, to give the student the power 
of entering into conscious communion with it, and teach him to 
impose upon its forces the directive force of his own will, as 
easily as he imposes that will upon the " material " things of 
sense. 1 

(2) This brings us to the second axiom of magic, which also 
has a curiously modern air : for it postulates simply the limit- 
less power of the disciplined human will. This dogma has been 
" taken over " without acknowledgment from occult philosophy 

1 For a more detailed discussion of this subject the reader is referred to Steiner's 
exceedingly curious and interesting little book, " The Way of Initiation." 



188 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

to become the trump card of menticulture, " Christian Science," 
and " New Thought." The preachers of " Joy Philosophy," and 
other dilute forms of mental discipline, are the true priests of 
transcendental magic in the modern world. 1 

The first lesson of the would-be magus is self-mastery. " By 
means of persevering and gradual athletics," says Eliphas Levi, 
" the powers of the body can be developed to an amazing extent. 
It is the same with the powers of the soul. Would you govern 
yourself and others ? Learn how to will. How may one learn 
how to will ? This is the first secret of magical initiation ; and 
it was to make the foundations of this secret thoroughly under- 
stood that the antique keepers of the mysteries surrounded the 
approach to the sanctuary with so many terrors and illusions. 
They did not believe in a will until it had given its proofs ; and 
they were right. Strength cannot prove itself except by con- 
quest. Idleness and negligence are the enemies of the will ; and 
this is the reason why all religions have multiplied their practices 
and made their cults difficult and minute. The more trouble 
one gives oneself for an idea, the more power one acquires in 
regard to that idea. . . . Hence the power of religions resides 
entirely in the inflexible will of those who practise them." 2 

In its essence, then, magical initiation is a traditional form 
of mental discipline, strengthening and focussing the will. By 
it, some of those powers of apprehension which lie below the 
threshold of ordinary consciousness are liberated, and enabled 
to report their discoveries to the active and sentient mind. This 
discipline, like that of the religious life, consists partly in physical 
austerities and in a deliberate divorce from the world, partly in 
the cultivation of will-power : but largely in a yielding of the 
mind to the influence of suggestions which have been selected 
and accumulated in the course of ages because of their power 
over that imagination which Eliphas LeVi calls " The eye of the 
soul." There is nothing supernatural about it. Like the more 
arduous, more disinterested self-training of the mystic, it is 
character-building with an object, conducted upon an heroic 

1 Compare the following : " Imagine that all the world and the starry hosts are 
waiting, alert and with shining eyes, to do your bidding. Imagine that you are to 
touch the button now, and instantly they will spring to do the rest. The instant you 
say, " I can and I will " the entire powers of the universe are to be set in motion" 
(E. Towne, "Joy Philosophy," p. 52). 

2 " Rituel de la Haute Magie," pp. 35. 36. 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 189 

scale. In magic the " will to know " is the centre round which 
the personality is rearranged. As in mysticism, subconscious 
factors are dragged from the hiddenness to form part of that 
personality. The uprushes of thought, the abrupt intuitions 
which reach us from the subliminal region, are developed, 
ordered, and controlled by rhythms and symbols which have 
become traditional because the experience of centuries has 
proved, though it cannot explain, their efficacy. 

"The fundamental principle," says A. E. Waite, speaking of 
occult evocations, " was in the exercise of a certain occult force 
resident in the magus and strenuously exerted for the establish- 
ment of such a correspondence between two planes of nature as 
would effect his desired end. This exertion was termed the 
evocation, conjuration, or calling of the spirit, but that which in 
reality was raised was the energy of the inner man ; tremendously 
developed and exalted by combined will and aspiration, this 
energy germinated by sheer force a new intellectual faculty of 
sensible psychological perception. To assist and stimulate this 
energy into the most powerful possible operation, artificial 
means were almost invariably used. . . . The synthesis of these 
methods and processes was called Ceremonial Magic, which in 
effect was a tremendous forcing-house of the latent faculties of 
man's spiritual nature." x 

This is the psychological explanation of those apparently 
absurd rituals of preparation, doctrines of signs and numbers, 
pentacles, charms, angelical names, the "power of the word" 
and all the rest, which go to make up ceremonial magic. The 
power of such artifices is known amongst the Indian mystics, 
who, recognizing in the Mantra, or occult and rhythmic formula, 
consciously held and repeated, an invaluable help to the attain- 
ment of the true ecstatic states, are not ashamed to borrow them 
from the magicians. So, too, the modern American schools of 
mental healing and New Thought recommend concentration 
upon a carefully selected word as the starting-point of efficacious 
meditation. This fact of the enormous psychical effect of 
certain verbal combinations, when allowed to dominate the field 
of consciousness, is the practical reason of that need of a formal 
liturgy which is felt by nearly every great religion : for religion, 
on its ceremonial side, is always largely magical. It, too, seeks 

x "The Occult Sciences," p. 14. 



190 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

by artificial means to stimulate latent energies. The true magic 
" word " or spell is untranslatable ; because its power resides 
only partially in that outward sense which is apprehended by 
the reason, but chiefly in the rhythm, which is addressed to the 
subliminal mind. Did the Catholic Church choose to acknow- 
ledge a law long known to the adepts of magic, she has here an 
explanation of that instinct which has caused her to cling so 
strenuously to a Latin liturgy, much of whose amazing and 
truly magic power would evaporate were it translated into the 
vulgar tongue. Symbols, religious and other, and symbolic acts 
which appear meaningless when judged by the intellect alone, 
perform a similar office. They express the deep-seated instinct 
of the human mind that it must have a focus on which to con- 
centrate its volitional powers, if those powers are to be brought 
to their highest state of efficiency. The nature of the focus 
matters little : its office matters much. I give a short extract 
from the "Rituel de la Haute Magie," which sufficiently exhibits 
Levi's opinion on this subject. Many of its phrases might be 
fresh from the pen of the newest American psychologist. 

"... All these figures, and acts analogous to them, all 
these dispositions of numbers and of characters [i.e. sacred 
words, charms, pentacles, &c] are, as we have said, but instru- 
ments for the education of the will, of which they fix and 
determine the habits. They serve also to concentrate in action 
all the powers of the human soul, and to strengthen the creative 
power of the imagination. ... A practice, even though it be 
superstitious and foolish, may be efficacious because it is a 
realization of the will. . . . We laugh at the poor woman who 
denies herself a ha'porth of milk in the morning, that she may 
take a little candle to burn upon the magic triangle in some 
chapel. But those who laugh are ignorant, and the poor woman 
does not pay too dearly for the courage and resignation which 
she thus obtains. The wise pass proudly by shrugging their 
shoulders. They attack superstition with a clamour which 
shakes the world : and what happens ? The houses which they 
build fall down, and their debris are re-sold to the providers and 
purchasers of little candles ; who willingly allow it to be said 
that their power is at an end, since they know that their reign 
is eternal." x 

1 " Rituel de la Haute Magie," p. 71. 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 191 

Magic symbols, therefore, from penny candles to Solomon's 
seal, fall, in modern technical language, into two classes. The 
first contains instruments of self-suggestion, exaltation, and will 
direction. To this belong all spells, charms, rituals, perfumes : 
from the magician's vervain wreath to the " Youth ! Health ! 
Strength!" which the student of New Thought repeats when 
she is brushing her hair in the morning. The second class 
contains autoscopes : i.e., material objects which focus and express 
the subconscious perceptions of the operator. The dowser's 
divining rod, fortune-teller's cards, and crystal-gazer's ball, are 
characteristic examples. Both kinds are rendered necessary 
rather by the disabilities of the human than by the peculiarities 
of the superhuman plane : and the great adept, like the great 
saint, may attain heights at which he can entirely dispense with 
these " outward and visible signs." " Ceremonies being, as we 
have said, artificial methods of creating certain habits of the will, 
they cease to be necessary when these habits have become fixed." * 
This is a point at which the history of magic lights up for us 
certain peculiarities in the history of mysticism. 

These facts, now commonplaces of psychology, have been 
known and used by students of magic for countless generations. 
Those who decry the philosophy because of the apparent 
absurdity of its symbols and ceremonies should remember that 
the embraces, gestures, grimaces, and other ritual acts by which 
we all concentrate, liberate, or express love, wrath, or enthusiasm, 
will ill endure the cold revealing light of a strictly rational 
inquiry. 

(3) To the two dogmas of the " Astral Light " or universal 
agent and the " power of the will " there is to be added a third : 
the doctrine of Analogy, or implicit correspondence between 
appearance and reality, the microcosm of man and the macrocosm 
of the universe, the seen and the unseen worlds. In this, oc- 
cultism finds the basis of all its transcendental speculations. 
Quod superius sicut quod inferius — the first words of that 
Emerald Table which was once attributed to Hermes Tris- 
megistus himself — is an axiom which must be agreeable to all 
Platonists. It plays an enormous part in the theory of 
mysticism, which has always assumed that the path of the 
individual soul towards loving union with the Absolute is 
1 " Rituel de la Haute Magie," p. 139. 



192 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

strictly analogous with the path on which the universe moves 
to its consummation in God. 

The notion of analogy ultimately determines the religious 
concepts of every race, and resembles the verities of faith in the 
breadth of its application : for it embraces alike the appearances 
of the visible world — which thus become the mirrors of the 
invisible — the symbols of religion, the tiresome arguments of 
Butler's " Analogy," the sublime allegories of the Kabalah and 
the spiritual alchemists, and that childish " doctrine of signa- 
tures" on which much of mediaeval science was built. 

" Analogy," says Levi, 1 " is the last word of science and the 
first word of faith . . . the sole possible mediator between the 
visible and the invisible, between the finite and the infinite." 
Here Magic clearly defines her own limitations ; stepping 
incautiously from the useful to the universal, and laying down 
a doctrine which no mystic could accept — which, carried to 
its logical conclusion, would turn the adventure of the infinite 
into a guessing game. 

" Analogy," he says again — and this time, perhaps, with more 
propriety — " is the key of all the secrets of nature : . . . this is 
why religions seem to be written in the heavens and in all nature : 
this must be so, for the work of God is the book of God, and in 
that which he writes one should see the expression of his thought 
and consequently of his Being, since we conceive of him only as 
Supreme Thought." 2 Here we have a hint of that idealistic 
element which is implicit in occultism : as even the wildest 
heresies retain traces of the truths which they pervert. 

The argument by analogy is carried by the occultists to 
lengths which can hardly be set down in this place. Armed 
with this torch, they explore the darkest, most terrible mysteries 
of life : and do not hesitate to cast the grotesque shadows of 
these mysteries upon the unseen world. The principle of cor- 
respondence is no doubt a sound one, so long as it works 
within reasonable limits. It was admitted into the system of 
the Kabalah, though that astute philosophy was far from giving 
to it the importance which it assumes in Hermetic science. It 
has been accepted eagerly by many of the mystics. Boehme 
and Swedenborg gladly availed themselves of its method in 
presenting their intuitions to the world. It is implicitly ac- 

1 " Dogme de la Haute Magie," p. 361 et seq. a /did., p. 363. 






MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 193 

knowledged by thinkers of innumerable other schools : its 
influence permeates the best periods of literature. Sir Thomas 
Browne spoke for more than himself when he said, in a well- 
known passage of the " Religio Medici " : " The severe schools 
shall never laugh me out of the philosophy of Hermes [i.e., 
Trismegistus] that this visible world is but a picture of the 
invisible, wherein, as in a portrait, things are not truly but in 
equivocal shapes, and as they counterfeit some real substance 
in that invisible framework." Such a sense of analogy, what- 
ever the " severe schools " may say, is the foundation of every 
perfect work of art. " Intuitive perception of the hidden 
analogies of things," says Hazlitt in " English Novelists," " or, 
as it may be called, his instinct of the imagination, is perhaps 
what stamps the character of genius on the productions of art 
more than any other circumstance." 

The central doctrine of magic may now be summed up 
thus : — 

(i) That a supersensible and real "cosmic medium" exists, 
which interpenetrates, influences, and supports the tangible and 
apparent world, and is amenable to the categories both of 
philosophy and of physics. 

(2) That there is an established analogy and equilibrium 
between the real and unseen world, and the illusory manifesta- 
tions which we call the world of sense. 

(3) That this analogy may be discerned, and this equilibrium 
controlled, by the disciplined will of man, which thus becomes 
master of itself and of fate. 

We must now examine in more detail the third of these 
propositions — that which ascribes abnormal powers to the edu- 
cated and disciplined will : for this assumption lies at the root 
of all magical practices, alike of the oldest and the newest 
schools. " Magical operations," says Eliphas Levi, " are the 
exercise of a power which is natural, but superior to the 
ordinary powers of nature. They are the result of a science, 
and of habits, which exalt the human will above its usual 
limits." 1 This power of the will is daily gaining recognition 
in the camps of science, as the chief factor in religion and in 
therapeutics — the healing of the body and the healing of the soul 
— for our most advanced theories on these subjects are little more 

1 " Rituel de la Haute Magie," p. 33. 
o 



194 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

than the old \vine of magic in new bottles. The accredited 
psychological theory of religious "experience," for instance, 
rests upon the hypothesis that by self-suggestion, by a 
deliberate cultivation of the " will-to-believe," and similar 
means, it is possible to shift the threshold of consciousness, 
and to exhibit those supernormal perceptions which are 
variously attributed to inspiration and to disease. This is 
exactly what ceremonial magic professes, in milder and more 
picturesque language, to do for her initiates : and all such 
deliberate processes of conversion are, on their psychological 
side, the results of an involuntary obedience to the laws of 
Hermetic science. The ancient occultists owed much of their 
power, and also of their evil reputation, to the fact that they 
\were psychologists before their time. 

Recipes for the alteration and exaltation of personality and 
for the enhancement of will-power, the artificial production of 
photisms, automatisms, and ecstasy, with the opening up of the 
subliminal field which accompanies these phenomena — con- 
cealed from the profane by a mass of confusing allegories and 
verbiage — form the backbone of all genuine occult rituals. 
Their authors were perfectly aware that ceremonial magic has 
no objective importance, but depends solely on its effect upon 
the operator's mind. In order that this effect might be 
enhanced, it was given an atmosphere of sanctity and mystery ; 
its rules were strict, its higher rites difficult of attainment. 
It constituted at once a test of the student's earnestness and 
a veil which guarded the sanctuary from the profane. The 
long and difficult preparations, majestic phrases, and strange 
ceremonies of an evocation had power, not over the spirit of 
the dead, but over the consciousness of the living, who was thus 
caught up from the world of sense to a new plane of perception. 
For him, not for unknown Powers, were these splendours and 
these arts displayed. The rationale of the evocation of an 
angel consists, not in summoning spirits from afar, but in 
opening the operator's eyes upon angels who are always 
there. 

"When the spiritual exaltation of the Magus has been 
accomplished by . . . various ceremonial practices, the spirit is, 
in magical language, compelled to appear. That is to say, the 
operator has passed into a condition when it would be as 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 195 

impossible for a spirit to remain invisible to him as for an 
ordinary mortal to conceal itself from our common sight, with- 
out any intervening shelter, in the blaze of a noonday sun." 1 
Thus the whole education of the genuine occult student tends 
to awaken in him a new view and a new attitude. It adjusts 
the machinery of his cinematograph to the registering of new 
intervals in the stream of things, which passed it by before ; 
and thus introduces new elements into that picture by which 
ordinary men are content to know and judge the — or rather 
their — universe. 

" In the end," says Steiner, with the usual exaggeration of 
the professional occultist, "it all resolves itself into the fact 
that man, ordinarily, carries body, soul, and spirit about with 
him, yet is conscious only of the body, not of the soul and 
spirit ; and that the student attains to a similar consciousness 
of soul and spirit also." 2 

So much for the principles which govern occult education. 
Magic therapeutics, or as it is now called, " mental healing," is 
but the application of these principles upon another plane. It 
results, first, from a view of humanity which sees a difference 
only of degree between diseases of body and of soul, and can 
state seriously and in good faith that rt moral maladies are more 
contagious than physical, and there are some triumphs of 
infatuation and fashion which are comparable to leprosy or 
cholera." 3 Secondly, it is worked by that enhancement of will 
power, that ability to alter and control weaker forms of life, 
which we have seen to be the reward of the occult discipline. 
" All the power of the occult healer lies in his conscious will and 
all his art consists in producing faith in the patient." 4 

This simple truth was in the possession of the magi at a time 
when Church and State saw no third course between the burning 
or beatification of its practitioners. Now, under the polite names 
of mental hygiene, suggestion, and therapeutics, it is steadily 
advancing to the front rank of medical shibboleths. Yet it is 
still the same "magic art" which has been employed for 
centuries, with varying ritual accompaniments, by the adepts 

x A. E. Waite, "The Occult Sciences," p. 32. 

2 " The Way of Initiation," p. 142. 

3 M Dogme de la Haute Magie," p. 129. 
* "RitueV'p. 312. 



196 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of occult science. The methods of Brother Hilarian Tissot, who 
is described as curing lunacy and crime by "the unconscious 
use of the magnetism of Paracelsus," who attributed his cases 
" either to disorder of the will or to the perverse influence of 
external wills," and would " regard all crimes as acts of madness 
and treat the wicked as diseased," J anticipated the discoveries 
of Charcot and Janet. 

But in spite of the consistent employment by all the great 
adepts of their " occult " or supernormal power in the healing 
and the prevention of disease, on its philosophic side magic, 
like Christianity, combines a practical policy of pity for the 
maimed, halt, and blind, with a creed of suffering and renuncia- 
tion. ''Here it joins hands with mysticism and proclaims its 
belief in pain as the schoolmaster of every spirit which desires 
to transcend the life of sense. Eliphas LeVi, whilst advising the 
initiate whose conscious will has reached its full strength to 
employ his powers in the alleviation of pain and prolongation 
of life, laughs at the student who seeks in magic a method of 
escaping suffering or of satisfying his own selfish desires. None, 
he says, knows better than the true magician that suffering is of 
the essence of the world plan. Only those who face it truly 
live. " Alas for the man who will not suffer ! He will be 
crushed by griefs." 2 Again — perhaps his finest utterance — 
? To learn to suffer and to learn to die ; this is the gymnastic of 
Eternity, the noviciate of immortal life." 3 

Here, then, is the pure theory of magic. It is seen at its 
best in Eliphas Levi's works ; because he was, in some respects, 
greater than the system which he preached. Towards the close 
of his life the defective and limited nature of that system became 
clear to him, and in his latest writings he makes no secret of 
this fact. The chief of these defects is the peculiar temper 
of mind, the cold intellectual arrogance, the intensely individual 
point of view which occult studies seem to induce by their 
conscious quest of exclusive power and knowledge, their implicit 
neglect of love. At bottom, every student of occultism is 
striving towards a point at which he may be able to " touch the 
button " and rely on the transcendental world " springing to do 
the rest." In this hard-earned acquirement of power over the 

« " Dogme," p. 134. a " Histoire de la Magie," p. 36. 

a Ibid., p. 147. 



i 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 197 

Many, he tends to forget the One. In Levi's words, " Too deep 
a study of the mysteries of nature may estrange from God the 
careless investigator, in whom mental fatigue paralyses the 
ardours of the heart." 1 When he wrote this sentence Levi 
stood, as the greater occultists have often done, at the very 
frontiers of mysticism. The best of the Hermetic philosophers, 
indeed, are hardly ever without such mystical hankerings, such 
flashes of illumination ; as if the transcendental powers of man, 
once roused from sleep, cannot wholly ignore the true end for 
which they were made. 

In Levi's case, as is well known, the discord between the 
occult and mystical ideals was resolved by that return to the 
Catholic Church which has always amazed and sometimes 
annoyed his commentators. Characteristically, he " read into " 
Catholicism much that the orthodox would hardly allow ; so 
that it became for him, as it were, a romantic gloss on the 
occult tradition. He held that the Christian Church, nursing 
mother of the mystics, was also the heir of the magi ; and 
that popular piety and popular magic veiled the same ineffable 
truths. 

He had more justification than at first appears probable for 
this apparently wild and certainly heretical statement. Religion, 
as we have seen, can never entirely divorce herself from magic : 
for her rituals and sacraments, whatever explanations of their 
efficacy may be offered by their official apologists, have, and 
must have if they are to be successful in their appeal to the 
mind, a magical character. All persons who are naturally 
drawn towards the ceremonial aspect of religion, are really 
devotees of the higher magic : are acknowledging the strange 
power of subtle rhythms, symbolic words and movements, over 
the human will. An " impressive service " conforms exactly to 
the description which I have already quoted of a magical rite : 
it is " a tremendous forcing-house of the latent faculties of man's 
spiritual nature." Sacraments, too, however simple their begin- 
nings, always tend, as they evolve, to assume upon the 
phenomenal plane a magical aspect. Those who have observed 
with understanding, for instance, the Roman rite of baptism, 
with its spells and exorcisms, its truly Hermetic employment of 
salt, anointing chrism and ceremonial lights, must have seen in 
1 "Histoire de la Magie," p. 514. 



198 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

it a ceremony far nearer to the operations of white magic than 
to the simple lustrations practised by St. John the Baptist. 

There are obvious objections to the full working out of this 
subject in a book which is addressed to readers of all shades 
of belief; but any student who is interested in this branch 
of religious psychology may easily discover for himself the 
numerous and well-marked occult elements in the liturgies of 
the Christian — or indeed of any other — Church. There are 
invocative arrangements of the Names of God which appear 
alike in grimoire and in Missal ; sacred numbers, ritual actions, 
perfumes, purifications, words of power, hold as important a 
place in religion as in magic. In certain minor observances, 
and charm-like prayers, we seem to stand on the very border- 
land between magician and priest. 

It is inevitable that this should be so. The business of the 
Church is to appeal to the whole man, as she finds him living in 
the world of sense. She would hardly be adequate to this task 
did she neglect the powerful weapons which the occult tradition 
has put into her hand. She knows, implicitly, that only under 
those ecstatic conditions which it is the very object of magic to 
induce, can normal man open his door upon the Infinite, and let 
those subconscious powers which are the media of all our 
spiritual experiences emerge and peep for a moment upon the 
transcendental world. She, who takes the simplest and most 
common gifts of nature and transmutes them into heavenly food, 
takes also every discovery which the self has made concerning 
its own potentialities, and turns them to her own high ends. 
Founding her external system on sacraments and symbols, on 
rhythmic invocations and ceremonial acts of praise, insisting on 
the power of the pure and self-denying will and the "magic 
chain " of congregational worship, she does but join hands with 
those Magi whose gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the first 
gifts that she received. 

But she pays for this. She shares the limitations of the 
system which her Catholic nature has compelled her to absorb. 
It is true, of course, that she purges it of all its baser elements 
— its arrogance, its curiosity — true also that she is bound to 
adopt it because it is the highest common measure which she 
can apply to the spirituality of that world to which she is sent. 
But she cannot — and her great teachers have always known 



MYSTICISM AND MAGIC 199 

that she cannot — extract finality from a method which does not 
really seek after ultimate things. This method may and does 
teach men goodness, gives them happiness and health. It can 
even induce in them a certain exaltation in which they become 
aware, at any rate for a moment, of the existence of a transcen- 
dental world — a stupendous accomplishment. But it will never 
of itself make them citizens of that world : give to them the 
freedom of Reality. 

" The work of the Church in the world," says Patmore, " is 
not to teach the mysteries of life, so much as to persuade the 
soul to that arduous degree of purity at which God Himself 
becomes her teacher. The work of the Church ends when the 
knowledge of God begins." x Thus in spite of persistent efforts 
to the contrary, there will always be an inner and an outer 
Church : the inner Church of the mystics who know y the outer 
Church which, operating beneficently it is true, but — roughly 
speaking — upon the magical plane, only knows about. The 
New Testament is not without its reminders that this was 
bound to be the case. 2 

1 "The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," " Knowledge and Science," xxii. 
a See, amongst other passages, Matt. xiii. n, I Cor. ii. 6, and iii. I. 



V 



PART TWO 

THE MYSTIC WAY 



" As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains 
So Men pass on; but the States remain permanent for ever." 

Blake, "Jerusalem." 



X 



CHAPTER I 
INTRODUCTORY 

Our object is to describe the normal development of mystic consciousness — Its 
difficulty — Mystics differ enormously from one another — No one mystic completely 
typical — A "composite portrait" necessary — Its characteristics — The developing 
mystic consciousness oscillates between pain and pleasure states — Its growth is a 
continuous transcendence — Five great stages : I. Awakening or Conversion ; 2. Self- 
knowledge or Purgation ; 3. Illumination ; 4. Surrender, or the Dark Night ; 
5. Union — Distinction between Union and Ecstasy — Unitive Life the goal of the 
Mystic Way — Annihilation of Self the end of Oriental Mysticism — Christian Mysticism 
denies this interpretation of Union — Finds in it the enhancement not the suppression 
of life — The Divine Dark — The true Unitive Life active — A state of Divine 
Fecundity — The "great actives" — Their dual character of action and fruition — St. 
Catherine of Siena — The proper end of the Mystic Way is Deification 

WE are now to turn from general principles and study 
those principles in action : to describe the psycho- 
logical process, or " Mystic Way," by which that 
peculiar type of personality which is able to set up direct 
relations with the Absolute is usually developed. The difficulty 
of this description will lie in the fact that all mystics differ 
one from another ; as all the individual objects of our perception, 
" living " and " not living," do. The creative impulse in the 
world, so far as we are aware of it, appears upon ultimate 
analysis to be free and original, not bound and mechanical : to 
express itself, in defiance of the determinists, with a certain 
artistic spontaneity. Man, when he picks out some point of 
likeness as a basis on which to arrange its productions in groups, 
is not discovering its methods ; but merely making for his own 
convenience an arbitrary choice of one or two — not necessarily 
characteristic — qualities, which happen to appear in a certain 
number of different persons or things. Hence the most 
scientific classification is a rough-and-ready business at the 
best. 

203 



204 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

When we come to apply such a classification to so delicate 
and elusive a series of psychological states as those which 
accompany the "contemplative life," all the usual difficulties 
seem to be enormously increased. No one mystic can be 
discovered in whom all the observed characteristics of the 
transcendental consciousness are resumed, and who can on that 
account be treated as typical. Mental states which are distinct 
and mutually exclusive in one case, exist simultaneously in 
another. In some, stages which have been regarded as essential 
are entirely omitted : in others, their order appears to be 
reversed. We seem at first to be confronted by a group of 
selves which arrive at the same end without obeying any 
general law. 

Take, however, a number of such definitely mystical selves 
and make of them, so to speak, a " composite portrait " : as 
anthropologists do when they wish to discover the character of 
a race. From this portrait we may expect a type to emerge, 
in which all the outstanding characteristics contributed by the 
individual examples are present together, and minor variations 
are suppressed. Such a portrait will of course be conventional : 
but it will be useful as a standard, which can be constantly 
compared with, and corrected by, isolated specimens. 

The first thing we notice about this composite portrait is 
that the typical mystic seems to move towards his goal through 
a series of strongly marked oscillations between "states of 
pleasure " and " states of pain." The existence and succession 
of these states — sometimes broken and confused, sometimes 
crisply defined — can be traced, to a greater or less degree, in 
almost every case of which we possess anything like a detailed 
record. Gyrans gyrando vadit spiritus. The soul, as it 
treads the ascending spiral of its road towards reality, expe- 
riences alternately the sunshine and the shade. These 
experiences are " constants " of the transcendental life. " The 
Spiritual States of the Soul are all Eternal," said Blake, with 
the true mystical genius for psychology. 1 

The complete series of these states — and it must not be 

forgotten that few individuals present them all in perfection, 

whilst in many instances several are blurred or appear to be 

completely suppressed — will be, I think, most conveniently 

1 "Jerusalem," pt. iii. 



INTEODUCTOEY 205 

arranged under five heads. This method of grouping means, 
of course, the abandonment of the time-honoured threefold 
division of the Mystic Way, and the apparent neglect of 
St. Teresa's equally celebrated Seven Degrees of Contemplation ; 
but I think that we shall gain more than we lose by adopting 
it. The groups, however, must be looked upon throughout as 
diagrammatic, and only as answering loosely and generally 
to experiences which seldom present themselves in so rigid 
and unmixed a form. These experiences, largely conditioned 
as they are by surroundings and by temperament, exhibit all 
the variety and spontaneity which are characteristic of life 
in its highest manifestations : and, like biological specimens, 
they lose something of their essential reality in being prepared 
for scientific investigation. Taken all together, they constitute 
one continuous process of transcendence : the movement of 
consciousness from lower to higher levels of reality, the steady 
remaking of character in accordance with the "independent 
spiritual world." But as the study of physical life is made 
easier for us by an artificial division into infancy, adolescence, 
maturity, and old age, so a discreet indulgence of the human 
passion for map-making will materially increase our chances 
of understanding the nature of the Mystic Way. 

Here, then, is the somewhat arbitrary classification under 
which we shall study the phases of the mystical life. 

(i) The awakening of the Self to consciousness of Divine 
Reality. This experience, usually abrupt and well-marked, 
is accompanied by intense feelings of joy and exaltation. 

(2) The Self, aware for the first time of Divine Beauty, 
realizes by contrast its own finiteness and imperfection, the 
manifold illusions in which it is immersed, the immense distance 
which separates it from the One. Its attempts to eliminate 
by discipline and mortification all that stands in the way of 
its progress towards union with God constitute Purgation : 
a state of pain and effort. 

(3) When by Purgation the Self has become detached from 
the "things of sense," and acquired the "ornaments of the 
spiritual marriage," its joyful consciousness of the Transcendent 
Order returns in an enhanced form. Like the prisoners in Plato's 
" Cave of Illusion," it has awakened to knowledge of Reality, 
has struggled up the harsh and difficult path to the mouth 



206 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of the cave. Now it looks upon the sun. This is Illumina- 
tion : a state which includes in itself many of the stages of 
contemplation, " degrees of orison," visions and adventures 
of the soul described by St. Teresa and other mystical 
writers. These form, as it were, a way within the Way : 
a moyen de parvenii% a training devised by experts which 
will strengthen and assist the mounting soul. They stand, 
so to speak, for education ; whilst the Way proper repre- 
sents organic growth. Illumination is the "contemplative 
state " par excellence. It forms, with the two preceding 
states, the " first mystic life." Many mystics never go beyond 
it ; and, on the other hand, many seers and artists not 
usually classed amongst them, have tasted, to some extent, 
the splendours of the illuminated state. It entails a vision 
of the Absolute : a sense of the Divine Presence : but not 
true union with it. It is a state of happiness. 

(4) In the development of the great and strenuous seekers 
after God, this is followed — or sometimes intermittently 
accompanied — by the most terrible of all the experiences of 
the Mystic Way : the last and most complete purification of 
the Self, which is called by some contemplatives the " Mystic 
pain " or " Mystic death," by others the Dark Night of the 
Soul. The consciousness which had, in Illumination, sunned 
itself in the sense of the Divine Presence, now suffers under 
an equally intense sense of the Divine Absence : learning to 
dissociate the personal satisfaction of mystical vision from the 
reality of mystical life. As in Purgation the senses were 
cleansed and humbled, and the energies and interests of the 
Self were concentrated upon transcendental things : so now 
the purifying process is extended to the very centre of 
I-hood, the will. The human instinct for personal happiness 
must be killed. This is the " spiritual crucifixion " so often 
described by the mystics : the great desolation in which the 
soul seems abandoned by the Divine. The Self now sur- 
renders itself, its individuality, and its will, completely. It 
desires nothing, asks nothing, is utterly passive, and is thus 
prepared for 

(5) Union : the true goal of the mystic quest. In this 
state the Absolute Life is not merely perceived and enjoyed 
by the Self, as in Illumination : but is one with it. This is 



INTRODUCTORY 207 

the end towards which all the previous oscillations of con- 
sciousness have tended. It is a state of equilibrium, of purely 
spiritual life ; characterized by peaceful joy, by enhanced powers, 
by intense certitude. To call this state, as some authorities 
do, by the name of Ecstasy, is inaccurate and confusing : since 
the term Ecstasy has long been used both by psychologists 
and ascetic writers to define that short and rapturous trance 
— a state with well-marked physical and psychical accompani- 
ments — in which the contemplative, losing all consciousness 
of the phenomenal world, is caught up to a brief and immediate 
enjoyment of the Divine Vision. Ecstasies of this kind are 
often experienced by the mystic in Illumination, or even on 
his first conversion. They cannot therefore be regarded as 
exclusively characteristic of the Unitive Way. In some, 
indeed — St. Teresa is an example — the ecstatic trance seems 
to diminish rather than increase in frequency after the state 
of union has been attained. 

Union must be looked upon as the true end of mystical 
education, the permanent condition of life upon transcendent 
levels of reality, of which ecstasies give a foretaste to the soul. 
Intense forms of it, described by individual mystics, under 
symbols such as those of Mystical Marriage, Deification, or 
Divine Fecundity, all prove on examination to be aspects of 
this same experience "seen through a temperament." 

It is right, however, to state here that Oriental Mysticism 
insists upon a further stage beyond that of union, which stage 
it regards as the real goal of the spiritual life. This is the total 
annihilation or reabsorption of the individual soul in the 
Infinite. Such an annihilation is said by the Sufis to con- 
stitute the " Eighth Stage of Progress," in which alone they 
truly attain to God. Thus stated it appears to differ little 
from the Buddhist's Nirvana, and is the logical corollary of 
that pantheism to which the Oriental mystic always tends. 
It is at least doubtful, however, whether the interpretation 
which has been put upon it by European students be correct. 
The passage in which Al Ghazzali attempts to describe it is 
certainly more applicable to the Unitive Life as understood 
by Christian contemplatives, than to the Buddhistic annihilation 
of personality. "The end of Sufi-ism," he says, "is total 
absorption in God. This is at least the relative end to that 



f 



208 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

part of their doctrine which I am free to reveal and describe. 
But in reality it is but the beginning of the Sufi life, for those 
intuitions and other things which precede it are, so to speak, 
but the porch by which they enter. ... In this state some 
have imagined themselves to be amalgamated with God, others 
to be identical with Him, others again to be associated with 
Him : but all this is sin" z 

The doctrine of annihilation as the end of the soul's ascent, 
whatever the truth may be as to the Moslem attitude con- 
cerning it, is decisively rejected by all European mystics, 
though a belief in it is constantly imputed to them by their 
enemies : for their aim is not the suppression of life, but its 
intensification, a change in its form. This change, they say 
in a paradox which is generally misunderstood, consists in 
the perfecting of personality by the utter surrender of self. 
It is true that the more Orientally-minded amongst them, 
such as Dionysius the Areopagite, do use language of a negative 
kind which seems almost to involve a belief in the annihila- 
tion rather than the transformation of the self in God : but this 
is because they are trying to describe a condition of super- 
sensible vitality from the point of view of the normal con- 
sciousness, to which it can only seem a Nothing, a Dark, 
a Self-loss. Further, it will be found that this temperamental 
language is generally an attempt to describe the conditions 
of transitory perception, not those of permanent existence : 
the characteristics, that is to say, of the Ecstatic Trance, in 
which for a short time the whole self is lifted to tran- 
scendent levels, and the Absolute is apprehended by a total 
suspension of the surface consciousness. 

Hence the Divine Dark, the Nothing, 'is not a state of non- 
being to which the mystic aspires to attain : it is rather an 
approximate and imperfect name for his consciousness of that Un- 
differentiated Godhead, that Supernal Light whence he may, in 
his ecstasies, bring down fire from heaven to light the world. 

In the mystics of the West, the highest forms of Divine 
Union impel the self to some sort of active, rather than of 
passive life : and this is now recognized by the best authorities 
as the true distinction between Christian and non-Christian 
mysticism. "The Christian mystics," says Delacroix, "move 

1 Schmolders, " Les Ecoles Philosophiques chez les Arabes," p. 61 



INTRODUCTORY 209 

from the Infinite to the Definite ; they aspire to inflnitize life 
and to define Infinity ; they go from the conscious to the sub- 
conscious, and from the subconscious to the conscious. The 
obstacle in their path is not consciousness in general, but self- 
consciousness, the consciousness of the Ego. The Ego is the 
limitation, that which opposes itself to the Infinite : the states of 
consciousness free from self, lost in a vaster consciousness, may 
become modes of the Infinite, and states of the Divine Conscious- 
ness." x So Starbuck : " The individual learns to transfer him- 
self from a centre of self-activity into an organ of revelation of 
universal being, and to live a life of affection for and one-ness 
with, the larger life outside." 2 

Hence, the ideal of the great contemplatives, the end of their 
long education, is to become " modes of the Infinite." Filled 
with an abounding sense of the Divine Life, of ultimate and 
adorable reality, sustaining and urging them on, they wish to 
communicate the revelation, the more abundant life, which they 
have received. Not spiritual marriage, but divine fecundity is to 
be their final state. In a sense St. Teresa in the Seventh 
Habitation, Suso when his great renunciation is made, have 
achieved the quest ; yet there is nothing passive in the condition 
to which they have come. Not Galahad, but the Grail-bearer 
is now their type : and in their life, words or works they are 
impelled to exhibit that " Hidden Treasure which desires to be 
found." 

" You may think, my daughters," says St. Teresa, " that the 
soul in this state [of union] should be so absorbed that she can 
occupy herself with nothing. You deceive yourselves. She 
turns with greater ease and ardour than before to all that which 
belongs to the service of God, and when these occupations leave 
her free again, she remains in the enjoyment of that com- 
panionship." 3 

No temperament is less slothful than the mystical one ; and 
the " quiet " to which the mystics must school themselves in the 
early stages of contemplation is often the hardest of their tasks. 
The abandonment of bodily and intellectual activity is only 
undertaken in order that they may, in the words of Plotinus, 

1 " Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 235. 

3 "The Psychology of Religion," p. 147. 

3 " El Castillo Interior," Moradas Setimas, cap. i. 



210 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

"energize enthusiastically" upon another plane. Work they 
must : but this work may take many forms — forms which are 
sometimes so wholly spiritual that they are not perceptible to 
practical minds. Much of the misunderstanding and consequent 
contempt of the contemplative life comes from the narrow and 
superficial definition of " work " which is set up by a muscular 
and wage-earning community. 

All records of mysticism in the West, then, are also the 
records of supreme human activity. Not only of " wrestlers in 
the spirit " but also of great organizers, such as St. Teresa and 
St. John of the Cross ; of missionaries preaching life to the 
spiritually dead, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius 
Loyola, Eckhart, Suso, Tauler, Fox ; of philanthropists, such as 
St. Catherine of Genoa ; poets and prophets, such as Mechthild 
of Magdeburg, Jacopone da Todi and Blake ; finally, of some 
immensely virile souls whose participation in the Absolute Life 
has seemed to force on them a national destiny. Of this 
St. Bernard, St. Catherine of Siena, and the Blessed Joan of 
Arc are the supreme examples. " The soul enamoured of My 
Truth," said God's voice to St. Catherine of Siena, " never ceases 
to serve the whole world in general." x 

Utterly remade in the interests of Reality, exhibiting 
that dual condition of fruition and activity which Ruysbroeck 
described as the crowning stage of human evolution, the 
" Supreme summit of the Inner Life," 2 all these lived, as it 
were, with both hands ; towards the finite and towards the 
Infinite, towards God and man. It is true that in nearly 
every case such " great actives " have first left the world 
as a necessary condition of obtaining contact with that Abso- 
lute Life which reinforced their own : for a mind distracted 
by the many cannot apprehend the One. Hence the solitude of 
the wilderness is an essential part of mystical education. But, 
having obtained that contact, and established themselves upon 
transcendent levels — being united with their Source not merely 
in temporary ecstasies, but by an act of complete surrender — 
they were impelled to abandon their solitude ; and resumed, in 
some way, their contact with the world in order to become the 
medium whereby that Life flowed out to other men. To go up 

1 Dialogo, cap. vii. 

8 " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. ii. cap. lxxiii. 



I 



INTRODUCTORY 2 

alone into the mountain and come back as an ambassador to the 
world, has ever been the method of humanity's best friends. 
This systole-and-diastole motion of retreat as the preliminary to 
a return remains the true ideal of Christian Mysticism in its 
highest development. Those in whom it is not found, however 
great in other respects they may be, must be considered as 
having stopped short of the final stage. 

Thus St. Catherine of Siena spent three year a hermit-like 
seclusion in the little room which we still see in her house in the 
Via Benincasa, entirely a&x off from the ordinary life of her 
family. " Within her own house," zzys her legend, " she found 
the desert; and a solitude in the midst of people." 1 There 
Catherine endured many mortifications, was visited by ecstasies 
and visions : passed, in fact, through the states of Purgation and 
Illumination, which existed in her case side by side. This life 
of solitude was brought to an abrupt end by the experience 
which is symbolized in the vision of the Mystic Marriage, and 
the Voice which then said to her, " Now will I wed thy soul, 
which shall ever be conjoined and united to Me ! " Catherine, 
who had during her long retreat enjoyed illumination to a high 
degree, now entered upon the Unitive State, in which the whole 
of her public life was passed. Its effect was immediately 
noticeable. She abandoned her solitude, joined in the family 
life, went out into the city to serve the poor and sick, attracted 
and taught disciples, converted sinners, and began that career of 
varied and boundless activity which has made her name one of 
the greatest in the history of the fourteenth century. Nor does 
this mean that she ceased to live the sort of life which is 
characteristic of mystical consciousness : to experience direct 
contact with the Transcendental World, to gaze into " the Abyss 
of Love Divine." On the contrary her astonishing practical 
genius for affairs, her immense power of ruling men, drew its 
strength from the long series of visions and ecstasies which 
accompanied and supported her labours in the world. She 
"descended into the valley of lilies to make herself more fruitful," 
says her legend. 2 The conscious vehicle of some " power 
not herself," she spoke and acted with an authority which 
might have seemed strange enough in an uneducated daughter 

1 E. Gardner, "St. Catherine of Siena," p. 15. 

2 S. Catherinae Senensis Vitae (Acta SS. Aprilis t. iii.), ii. ii. §4. 



'M AN 1NTK0DUCTI0N TO MYSTICISM 

people, were it not justified by the fact that all who came 
tact with her su: fitted to its influence. 
)i r business, then, is to trace from its beginning a gradual 
and complete change in the equilibrium of the self. It is a 
change whereby that self turns from the unreal world of sense 
in which i^s normally immersed, first t< apprehend, then to unite 
itself with Absolute Reality: finally, possessed by and wholly 
surrendered to this Transcendent Life, becomes a medium 
whereby the spiritual world is seen in a unique degree operating 
directly in the world of sense. \ Mother- words, we are to see 
the human mind advance? irom the mere perception of 
phenomena, through the intuition — v ^casional contact — of 

the Absolute under its aspect of Divine Transcendence, to the 
entire realization of, and union with olute Life under its 

aspect of Divine Immanence. 

The completed mystical life, then, is more than intuitional : 
it is theopathetic. In the old, frank language of the mystics, it 
is the deified life. 



u 



CHAPTER II 

THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 

The awakening of transcendental consciousness — Psychologically it is a form of 
conversion — Generally abrupt — Sometimes gradual — George Fox — An ineffable 
revelation — A vision of the Divine immanent in the world — General characteristics 
of mystic conversion — Instances — St. Francis of Assisi — The typical mystic — St. 
Catherine of Genoa — Madame Guyon — Her character — Her early life and conversion 
— Rulman Merswin — Suso — Ecstatic conversion — Pascal — Brother Lawrence — The 
perception of Divine Reality in Nature — The " transfigured world " — Instances — 
Walt Whitman — Richard Jefferies — Richard Rolle — Heavenly Song — Conversion 
may take two forms : (i) Expansive and Transcendent ; (2) Personal and Immanent — 
Their characteristics discussed and compared — Personal love the essential factor — The 
stimulus which sets the process of transcendence to work 

FIRST in the sequence of the mystic states, we must 
consider that decisive event, the awakening of the 
transcendental consciousness. 
This awakening, from the psychological point of view, 
appears to be an intense form of the much-discussed phenomenon 
of " conversion." In particular, it is closely akin to those deep 
and permanent conversions of the adult type which some 
religious psychologists call " sanctification." * It is a disturb- 
ance of the equilibrium of the self, which results in the shifting 
of the field of consciousness from lower to higher levels, with a 
consequent removal of the centre of interest from the subject to 
an object now brought unto view : the necessary beginning of 
any process of transc idence. It must not, however, be con- 
fusea or identified with religiouf conversion as ordinarily under- 
stood : the sudden and emotional acceptance of theological 
beliefs which the self had previously either rejected or treated 
as conventions dwelling upon the margin of consciousness and 
having no meaning for her actual life. The mechanical process 

1 See Starbuck, " The Psychology of Religion," cap. xxix. 

* :> 2I 3 



214 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

may be much the same ; but the material involved, the results 
attained, belong to a higher order of reality. 

" Conversion," says Starbuck, in words which are really far 
more descriptive of mystical awakening than of the revivalistic 
phenomena encouraged by American Protestantism, "is 
primarily an unselflng. The first birth of the individual is 
into his own little world. He is controlled by the deep-seated 
instincts of self-preservation and self-enlargement — instincts 
which are, doubtless, a direct inheritance from his brute 
ancestry. The universe is organized around his own personality 
as a centre." Conversion, then, is " the larger world-conscious- 
ness now pressing in on the individual consciousness. Often it 
breaks in suddenly and becomes a great new revelation. This 
is the first aspect of conversion : the person emerges from a 
smaller limited world of existence into a larger world of being. 
His life becomes swallowed up in a larger whole." * 

All conversion entails the abrupt or gradual emergence of 
intuitions from below the threshold, the consequent remaking 
of the field of consciousness, an alteration in the self s attitude 
to the world. But in the mystic this process is raised to the 
nth degree of intensity, for in him it means the first emergence 
of that genius for the Absolute which is to constitute his dis- 
tinctive character : an emergence enormous in its effect on 
every department of his life. Those to whom it happens, often 
enough, are already "religious": sometimes deeply and 
earnestly so. Rulman Merswin, St. Catherine of Genoa, 
Madame Guyon, George Fox — all these had been bred up 
in piety, and accepted in its entirety the Christian tradition. 
They were none the less conscious of an utter change in their 
world when this opening of the soul's eye took place. 

Sometimes the emergence of the mystical consciousness is 
gradual, unmarked by any definite crisis. The self slides 
gently, almost imperceptibly, from the old universe to the new. 
The records of mysticism, however, seem to suggest that this 
is exceptional : that travail is the normal accompaniment of 
birth. In another type, of which George Fox is a typical 
example, there is no conversion in the ordinary sense; but a 
gradual and increasing lucidity, of which the beginning has 
hardly been noticed by the self, intermittently accompanies the 

1 Op. cit.y cap. xii. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 215 

pain, misery of mind, and inward struggles characteristic of the 
entrance upon the Way of Purgation. Conversion and purifica- 
tion then go hand in hand, finally shading off into the serenity 
of the Illuminated State. Fox's "Journal" for the year 1647 
contains a vivid account of these " showings " or growing tran- 
scendental perceptions of a mind not yet at one with itself, and 
struggling towards clearness of sight. " Though my exercises 
and troubles," he says, " were very great, yet were they not so 
continual but I had some intermissions, and was sometimes 
brought into such a heavenly joy that I thought I had been in 
Abraham's bosom. . . . Thus in the deepest miseries, and in 
the greatest sorrows and temptations that many times beset me, 
the Lord in His mercy did keep me. I found that there were 
two thirsts in me ; the one after the creatures to get help and 
strength there ; and the other after the Lord, the Creator. . . . 
It was so with me, that there seemed to be two pleadings in me. 
. . . One day when I had been walking solitarily abroad and 
was come home, I was wrapped up in the love of God, so that I 
could not but admire the greatness of his love. While I was 
in that condition it was opened unto me by the eternal Light 
and Power, and I saw clearly therein. . . . But O ! then did I 
see my troubles, trials, and temptations more clearly than ever 
I had done." * 

The great oscillations of the typical mystic between joy and 
pain are here replaced by a number of little ones. The " two 
thirsts" of the superficial and spiritual consciousness assert 
themselves by turns. Each step towards the vision of the Real 
brings with it a reaction. The nascent transcendental powers 
are easily fatigued, and the pendulum of self takes a shorter 
swing. " I was swept up to Thee by Thy Beauty, and torn 
away from Thee by my own weight," says St. Augustine, 
crystallizing the secret of this experience in an unforgettable 
phrase. 2 

Most often, however, if we may judge from those first-hand 
accounts which we possess, mystic conversion is a single and 
abrupt experience, sharply marked off from the long, dim 
struggles which precede and succeed it. Normally, it takes 
the form of a sudden and acute realization of a splendour and 
adorable reality in the world — or sometimes of its obverse, the 

1 Journal of George Fox, cap. i. a Aug. Conf. , bk. vii. cap. xvii. 



/ 



216 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

I 

divine sorrow at the heart of things — never before perceived. 
In so far as I am acquainted with the resources of language, 
there are no words in which this realization can be described. 
It is of so actual a nature that in comparison the normal world 
of past perception seems but twilit at the best. Conscious- 
ness has suddenly changed its rhythm and a new aspect of 
the universe rushes in. The teasing mists are swept away, and 
reveal, if only for an instant, the sharp outline of the Everlast- 
ing Hills. " He who knows this will know what I say, and will 
be convinced that the soul has then another life." * 

In most cases, the onset of this new consciousness seems to 
the self so sudden, so clearly imposed from without rather than 
developed from within, as to have a supernatural character. 
The typical case is, of course, that of St. Paul : the sudden 
light, the voice, the ecstasy, the complete alteration of life. 
We shall see, however, when we come to study the evidence of 
those mystics who have left a detailed record of their pre- 
converted state, that the apparently abrupt conversion is 
really, as a rule, the sequel and the result of a long period of 
restlessness, uncertainty, and mental stress. The deeper mind 
stirs uneasily in its prison, and its emergence is but the last of 
many efforts to escape. The temperament of the subject, his 
surroundings, the vague but persistent apprehensions of a super- 
sensual reality which he could not find yet could not forget ; 
all these have prepared him for it. 2 

When, however, the subconscious intuitions, long ago 
quickened, are at last brought to birth and the eyes are opened 
on new light — and it is significant that an actual sense of blind- 
ing radiance is a constant accompaniment of this state of 
consciousness — the storm and stress, the vague cravings and 
oscillations of the past life are forgotten. In this abrupt 
recognition of reality " all things are made new " : from this 
point the life of the mystic begins. Conversion of this sort may 
be defined as a sudden, intense, and joyous perception of God 
immanent in the universe ; of the divine beauty and unutter- 
able splendour of that larger life in which the individual is 

1 Plotinus, Ennead vi. 9. 

2 Compare St. Augustine's Confessions, with their description of the years ot 
uncertainty and struggle which prepared him for the sudden and final " Tolle, lege ! " 
that initiated him into the long-sought life of Reality. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 217 

immersed, and of a new life to be lived by the self in corre- 
spondence with this now dominant fact of existence. The film 
of appearance is abruptly dissolved, and the eternal fairy fields 
are disclosed. For an instant the neophyte sees nature with the 
eyes of God. In that glorious moment "all is beauty ; and 
knowing this is love, and love is duty." But all that is meant 
by such a statement as this only the mystics know ; and even 
they seem unable to tell. 

I will here set down for comparison a few instances of such 
mystical conversion ; quoting, where this is available, the actual 
description left by the subject of his own experience, or in 
default of it, the earliest authentic account. In these cases, 
when grouped together, we shall see certain constant charac- 
teristics, from which it may be possible to deduce the psycho- 
logical law to which they owe their peculiar form. 

First in point of time, and first perhaps also in importance 
amongst those which I have chosen, is the case of St. Francis of 
Assisi ; that -great poet and contemplative, that impassioned 
lover of the Absolute, whom the unfortunate enthusiasm of his 
agnostic admirers has presented to the modern world as a 
celestial patron of the Socialist movement and the simple life. 
The fact that St. Francis wrote little and lived much, that his 
actions were of unequalled simplicity and directness, has 
blinded us to the fact that he is a typical mystic : the only 
one, perhaps, who forced the most trivial and sordid circum- 
stances of sensual life to become perfect expressions of Reality. 

Now the opening of St. Francis's eyes, which took place in 
A.D. 1206 when he was twenty- four years old, had been preceded 
by a long, hard struggle between the life of the world and the 
persistent call of the spirit. His mind, in modern language, had 
not unified itself. He was a high-spirited boy, full of vitality: a 
natuial artist, with all the fastidiousness which the artistic 
temperament involves. War and pleasure both attracted him, 
and upon them, says his legend, he "miserably squandered and 
wasted his time." * Nevertheless, he was vaguely dissatisfied. 
In the midst of festivities, he would have sudden fits of abstrac- 
tion : abortive attempts of the growing transcendental con- 
sciousness, still imprisoned below the threshold but aware of 
and in touch with the Real, to force itself to the surface and 

1 Thomas of Celano, Legenda Prima, cap. i. 



218 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

seize the reins. " Even in ignorance," says Thomas of Celano 
again, " he was being led to perfect knowledge." He loved 
beauty, for he was by nature a poet and a musician, and shrank 
instinctively from contact with ugliness and disease. But some- 
thing within ran counter to this temperamental bias, and some- 
times conquered it. He would then associate with beggars, 
tend the leprous, perform impulsive acts of charity and self- 
humiliation. 1 

When this divided state, described by the legend as "the 
attempt to flee God's hand," had lasted for some years, it 
happened one day that he was walking in the country outside 
the gates of Assisi, and passed the little church of S. Damiano, 
" the which " (I again quote from Thomas of Celano's "Second 
Life") "was almost ruinous and forsaken of all men. And, 
being led by the Spirit, he went in to pray ; and he fell down 
before the Crucifix in devout supplication, and having been 
smitten by unwonted visitations \ found himself another man than 
he who had gone in" 

Here, then, is the first stage of conversion. The struggle 
between two discrepant ideals of life has attained its term. A 
sudden and apparently " irrational " impulse to some decisive 
act reaches the surface-consciousness from the seething deeps. 
The impulse is followed ; and the swift emergence of the 
transcendental sense results. This " unwonted visitation " 
effects an abrupt and involuntary alteration in the subject's 
consciousness : whereby he literally " finds himself another 
man." He is as one who slept and now awakes. 

The crystallization of this new, at first fluid apprehension of 
Reality in the form of vision and audition : the pointing of the 
moral, the direct application of truth to the awakened self, 
follows. " And whilst he was thus moved, straightway — a thing 
unheard of for long ages ! — the painted image of Christ Crucified 
spoke to him from out its pictured lips. And, calling him by 
his name, " Francis," it said, " go, repair My house, the which as 
thou seest is falling into decay." And Francis trembled, being 
utterly amazed, and almost as it were carried away by these 
words. And he prepared to obey, for he was wholly set on the 
fulfilling of this commandment. But forasmuch as he felt that 

1 Thomas of Celano, Legenda Secunda, cap. v. Compare P. Sabatier, " Vie de 
6. Francois d' Assise," cap. ii., where the authorities are fully set out. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 219 

the change he had undergone was ineffable, it becomes us to be 
silent concerning it. . . ." From this time he " gave untiring 
toil to the repair of that Church. For though the words which 
were said to him concerned that divine Church which Christ 
bought with His own Blood, he would not hasten to such 
heights, but little by little from things of the flesh would pass 
to those of the Spirit." x 

In a moment of time, Francis's whole universe had suffered 
complete rearrangement. There are no hesitations, no uncer- 
tainties. The change, which he cannot describe, he knows to be 
central for life. Not for a moment does he think of disobeying 
the imperative voice which speaks to him from a higher plane 
of reality and demands the sacrifice of his career. 

Compare now with the experience of St. Francis that of 
another great saint and mystic, who combined, as he did, the 
active with the contemplative life. Catherine of Genoa, who 
seems to have possessed from childhood a religious nature, was 
prepared for the remaking of her consciousness by years of 
loneliness and depression, the result of an unhappy marriage. 
She, like St. Francis — but in sorrow rather than in joy — had 
oscillated between the world, which did not soothe her, and 
religion, which helped her no more. At last, she had sunk 
into a state of dull wretchedness, a hatred alike of herself and 
of life. 

Her emancipation was equally abrupt. In the year 1474, 
she being twenty-six years old, "The day after the feast of 
St. Benedict (at the instance of her sister that was a nun), 
Catherine went to make her confession to the confessor of that 
nunnery ; but she was not disposed to do it. Then said her 
sister, ' At least go and recommend yourself to him, because he 
is a most worthy religious' ; and in fact he was a very holy 
man. And suddenly, as she knelt before him, she received 
in her heart the wound of the unmeasured Love of God, with so 
clear a vision of her own misery and her faults, and of the good- 
ness of God, that she almost fell upon the ground. And by 
these sensations of infinite love, and of the offences that had 
been done against this most sweet God, she was so greatly 
drawn by purifying affection away from the poor things of this 
world that she was almost beside herself, and for this she cried 
1 Thomas of Celano, Legenda Secunda, cap. vi. 



220 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

inwardly with ardent love, ' No more world ! no more sin ! ' 
And at this point, if she had possessed a thousand worlds, she 
would have thrown all of them away. . . . And she returned 
home, kindled and deeply wounded with so great a love of God, 
the which had been shown her inwardly, with the sight of her 
own wretchedness, that she seemed beside herself. And she 
shut herself in a chamber, the most secluded she could find, 
with burning sighs. And in this moment she was inwardly 
taught the whole practice of orison : but her tongue could say 
naught but this — ' O Love, can it be that thou hast called me 
with so great a love, and made me to know in one instant that 
which worlds cannot express?'" This intuition of the Absolute 
was followed by an interior vision of Christ bearing the Cross, 
which further increased her love and self-abasement. " And 
she cried again, ' O Love, no more sins ! no more sins ! ' And 
her hatred of herself was more than she could endure." x 

Of this experience Von Hiigel says, "If the tests of reality 
in such things are their persistence and large and rich spiritual 
applicability and fruitfulness, then something profoundly real 
and important took place in the soul of that sad and weary 
woman of six-and-twenty, within that convent-chapel, at that 
Annunciation-tide." 2 It is very certain that for St. Catherine, 
as for St. Francis, an utterly new life did, literally, begin at this 
point. The centre of interest was shifted and the field of 
consciousness remade. She "knew in an instant that which 
words cannot express." Some veil about her heart was torn 
away ; so abruptly, that it left a wound behind. For the first 
time she saw and knew the Love in which life is bathed ; and 
all the energy and passion of a strong nature responded to 
its call. 

The conversion of Madame Guyon to the mystic life, as 
told by herself in the eighth chapter of part i. of her auto- 
biography — " How a holy Religious caused her to find God 
within her heart, with Admirable Results," is its characteristic 
title — is curiously like a dilute version of this experience of 
St. Catherine's. It, too, followed upon a period of great mental 
distress ; also the result of an uncongenial marriage. But since 
Madame Guyon's rather unbalanced, diffuse, and sentimental 

1 " Vita e Dottrina di Santa Caterina da Genova," cap. ii. 

a Von^Hugel, " The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. ii. p. 29. 



THE AWAKENING OP THE SELF 221 

character lacks the richness and dignity, the repressed ardours 
and exquisite delicacy of St. Catherine's mind, so, too, her 
account of her own interior processes is too often marred by a 
terrible and unctuous interest in the peculiar graces vouchsafed 
to her. 1 

Madame Guyon's value to the student of mysticism consists 
largely in this feeble quality of her surface-intelligence, which 
hence had little or no modifying or contributory effect upon her 
spiritual life. True to her own great principle of passivity or 
" quiet," it lets the interior impulses have their way ; and thus 
we are able in her case to observe their workings with unusual 
ease, uncomplicated by the presence of a vigorous intellect 
or a disciplined will. The wind that bloweth where it listeth 
whistles through her soul : and the response which she makes 
is that of a weathercock rather than a windmill. She moves 
to every current ; she often mistakes a draught for the divine 
breath ; she feels her gyrations to be of enormous importance. 
But when it comes to the description of her awakening to the 
deeper life, a genuine intensity of feeling endows even her 
effusive style with a certain dignity. 

Madame Guyon had from her childhood exhibited an almost 
tiresome taste for pious observances. At twelve years old she 
studied St. Francois de Sales and St. Jeanne Francoise de 
Chantal ; begged her confessor to teach her the art of mental 
prayer ; and when he omitted to do so, tried to teach herself, 
but without result. 2 She wished at this time to become a nun 
in Madame de Chantal's Order of the Visitation, as St. Catherine 
at the same age wanted to be an Augustinian canoness ; but as 
the longings of little girls of twelve for the cloister are seldom 
taken seriously, we are not surprised to find the refusal of her 
parents' consent chronicled in the chapter which is headed 

1 It is clear from the heading of cap. x. (pt. i.) of her Autobiography that 
Madame Guyon's editors were conscious, if she was not, of at least some of the 
extraordinary coincidences between her experiences and those of St. Catherine of 
Genoa. The parallel between their early years in particular is so exact and descends 
to such minute details that I am inclined to think that the knowledge of this resem- 
blance, and the gratification with which she would naturally regard it, has governed 
or modified some at any rate amongst her memories of this past. Such modifications, 
probably involuntary, have resulted in a curious and hitherto unnoticed case of 
u unconscious spiritual plagiarism." 

8 Vie, pt. i. cap. iv. 



222 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

" Diverses croix chez M. son pkre." Growing up into an unusually 
beautiful young woman, she went into society, and for a short 
time enjoyed life in an almost worldly way. Her marriage 
with Jacques Guyon, however — a marriage of which she signed 
the articles without even being told the bridegroom's name — 
put an end to her gaiety. "The whole town was pleased by 
this marriage ; and in all this rejoicing only I was sad . . . 
hardly was I married, when the remembrance of my old desire 
to be a nun overcame me." 1 

Her early married life in her mother-in-law's house was 
excessively unhappy. She was soon driven to look for com- 
fort in the practices of religion. " Made to love much, and 
finding nothing to love around her, she gave her love to God/ 
says Guerrier tersely. 2 But she was not satisfied : like most 
of her fellow-contemplatives, she was already vaguely con- 
scious of something that she missed, some vital power unused, 
and identified this something with the " orison of quiet," 
the " practice of the presence of God " which mystically 
minded friends had described to her. She tried to attain to 
:■ it deliberately, and naturally failed. " I could not give myself 
by multiplicity that which Thou Thyself givest, and which is 
only experienced in simplicity." 3 

When these interior struggles had lasted for nearly two 
years, and Madame Guyon was nineteen, the long desired, 
almost despaired of, apprehension came — as it did to St. 
Catherine — suddenly, magically almost ; and under curiously 
parallel conditions. It was the result of a few words spoken 
by a Franciscan friar whom a "secret force" acting in her 
interest had brought into the neighbourhood, and whom she 
had been advised to consult. He was a recluse, who disliked 
hearing the confessions of women, and appears to have been 
far from pleased by her visit ; an annoyance which he after- 
wards attributed to her fashionable appearance, "which filled 
him with apprehension." " He hardly came forward, and was 
a long time without speaking to me. I, however, did not fail 
to speak to him and to tell him in a few words my difficulties 
on the subject of orison. He at once replied, ' Madame, you 
are seeking without that which you have within. Accustom 

1 Op. cit. t pt. i. cap. vi. 8 " Madame Guyon," p. 36. 

3 Vie, pt. i. cap. viii. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 223 

yourself to seek God in your own heart, and you will find 
Him.' Having said this, he left me. The next morning he 
was greatly astonished when I again visited him and told him 
the effect which these words had had upon my soul : for, indeed, 
they were as an arrow, which pierced my heart through and 
through. I felt in this moment a profound wound^ which was 
full of delight and of love — a wound so sweet that I desired 
that it might never heal. These words had put into my heart 
that which I sought for so many years, or, rather, they caused 
me to find that which was there. O, my Lord, you were within 
my heart, and you asked of me only that I should return within, 
in order that I might feel your presence. O, Infinite Goodness, 
you were so near, and I, running here and there to seek you, 
found you not ! " She, too, like St. Catherine, learned in this 
instant the long-sought practice of orison, or contemplation. 
"From the moment of which I have spoken, my orison was 
emptied of all form, species, and images ; nothing of my orison 
passed through the mind ; but it was an orison of joyous 
possession in the Will, where the taste for God was so great, 
pure, and simple that it attracted and absorbed the two other 
powers of the soul in a profound recollection without action 
or speech." 1 

Take now the case of a less eminent but not less genuine 
mystic, who has also left behind him a vivid personal description 
of his entrance upon the Mystic Way. Rulman Merswin was a 
wealthy, pious, and respected merchant of Strassburg. In the 
year 1347, when he was about thirty-six years old, he retired 
from business in order that he might wholly devote himself to 
religious matters. It was the time of that spiritual revival 
within the Catholic Church in Germany which, largely in- 
fluenced by the great Rhenish mystics Suso and Tauler, is 
identified with the " Friends of God " ; and Merswin himself 
was one of Tauler's disciples. 2 

One evening, in the autumn which followed his retirement, 
" about the time of Martinmas," he was strolling in his garden 
alone. Meditating as he walked, a picture of the Crucifix 

1 Op. cit. t loc.cit. 

9 One of the best English accounts of this movement and the great personalities 
concerned in it will be found in Rufus Jones, " Studies in Mystical Religion," 
cap. xiii. 



224 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

suddenly presented itself to his mind. In such an imaginary- 
vision as this there is nothing, of course, that can be called 
in the least degree abnormal. The thoughts of a devout 
Catholic, much under the influence of Tauler and his school, 
must often have taken such a direction during his solitary strolls. 
This time, however, the mental image of the Cross seems 
to have given the needed stimulus to subconscious forces 
which had long been gathering way. Merswin was abruptly 
filled with a violent hatred of the world and of his own free-will. 
" Lifting his eyes to heaven he solemnly swore that he would 
utterly surrender his own will, person, and goods to the service 
of God." i 

This act of complete surrender, releasing as it were the 
earthbound self, was at once followed by the onset of pure 
mystical perception. " The reply from on high came quickly. 
A brilliant light shone about him : he heard in his ears a divine 
voice of adorable sweetness ; he felt as if he were lifted from the 
ground and carried several times completely round his garden." 2 
Optical disturbance, auditions, and the sense of levitation, are 
of course well-marked physical accompaniments of these shift- 
ings of the level of consciousness. There are few cases in 
which one or other is not present ; and in some we find all. 
Coming to himself after this experience, Merswin's heart was 
filled by a new consciousness of the Divine, and by a transport 

1 A. Jundt, " Rulman Merswin," p. 19. M. Jundt has condensed his account, 
which I here translate, from Merswin's a'utobiographical story of his conversion, 
published in Beitrdge zu den theologischen Wissenschaften, v. (Jena, 1854). Our 
whole knowledge of Merswin's existence depends on the group of documents which 
includes this confession, the "Book of Two Men," the "Vision of Nine Rocks," 
and his other reputed works. The authenticity of these documents has been much 
questioned of recent years, and there can be little doubt that they have suffered 
severely from the editorial energy of his followers. Some critics go so far as to 
regard them as pious fictions useless as evidence of the incidents of Merswin life. With 
this view, which is upheld by Karl Reider (Der Gottesfreund von Oberland, 1905), I 
cannot agree. The best solution of the many difficulties seems to me to be that 
involved in the brilliant hypothesis of M. Jundt, who believes that we have in Merswin 
and the mysterious " Friend of God of the Oberland," who pervades his spiritual 
career, a remarkable case of dissociated personality. Merswin's peculiar psychic 
make-up, as described in his autobiography, supports this view : the adoption 
of which I shall take for granted in future references to his life. It is incredible 
to me that the vivid account of his conversion which I quote should be merely 
"tendency-literature," without basis in fact. Compare Jundt's monograph, and 
also Rufus Jones, op. cit. pp. 245-253, where the whole problem is discussed. 

a Jundt, op. cit., loc. cit. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 225 

of intense love towards God which made him undertake with 
great energy the acts of mortification which he believed 
necessary to the purification of his soul. From this time 
onwards, his mystical consciousness steadily developed. That 
it was a consciousness wholly different in kind from the sincere 
piety which had previously caused him to retire from business 
in order to devote himself to religious truth, is proved by 
the name of Conversion which he applies to the vision of the 
garden ; and by the fact that' he dates from this point the 
beginning of his real life. 

The conversion of Merswin's greater contemporary, Suso, 
seems to have been less abrupt. Of its first stage he speaks 
vaguely at the beginning of his autobiography, wherein he says 
that "he began to be converted when in the eighteenth year 
of his age." x He was at this time, as St. Francis had been, 
restless, dissatisfied ; vaguely conscious of something essential 
to his peace, as yet unfound. His temperament, at once deeply 
human and ardently spiritual, passionately appreciative of 
sensuous beauty yet unable to rest in it, had not " unified it- 
self" : nor did it do so completely until after a period of purga- 
tion which is probably unequalled for its austerity in the 
history of the mysticism of the West. " He was kept of God in 
this, that when he turned to those things that most enticed him 
he found neither happiness nor peace therein. He v/as restless, 
and it seemed to him that something which was as yet un- 
known could alone give peace to his heart. And he suffered 
greatly of this restlessness. . . . God at last delivered him by 
a complete conversion. His brothers in religion were astonished 
by so quick a change: for the event took them unawares. 
Some said of it one thing, and some another : but none could 
know the reason of his conversion. It was God Who, by a 
hidden light, had caused this return to Himself." 2 

This secret conversion was completed by a more violent 
uprush of the now awakened and active transcendental powers. 
Suso, whom one can imagine as a great and highly nervous 
artist if his genius had not taken the channel of sanctity 

* " Leben und Schriften " (Diepenbrock), cap. i. Suso's autobiography is 
written in the third person. He refers to himself throughout under the title of 
"Servitor of the Eternal Wisdom." 

2 Op. cit., loc. cit. 



226 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

instead, was subject all his life to visions of peculiar richness 
and beauty. Often enough these visions seem to have floated 
up, as it were, from the subliminal region without disturbing 
the course of his conscious life ; and to be little more than 
sharply visualized expressions of his ardour towards and intui- 
tion of, divine realities. The great ecstatic vision — or rather 
apprehension, for there is nothing material about it — -with which 
the series opens, however, is of a very different kind ; and 
represents the characteristic experience of Ecstasy in its fullest 
form. It is described with a detail and intensity which make it 
a particularly valuable document of the mystical life. It is 
doubtful whether Suso ever saw more than this : the course 
of his long education rather consisted in an adjustment of 
his nature to the Reality which he then perceived. 

" In the first days of his conversion it happened upon 
the Feast of St. Agnes, when the Convent had breakfasted 
at midday, that the Servitor went into the choir. He was 
alone, and he placed himself in the last stall on the prior's side. 
And he was in much suffering, for a heavy trouble weighed 
upon his heart. And being there alone, and devoid of all 
consolations' — no one by his side, no one near him — of a sudden 
his soul was rapt in his body, or out of his body. Then did 
he see and hear that which no tongue can express. 

"That which the Servitor saw had no form neither any manner 
of being ; yet he had of it a joy such as he might have known 
in the seeing of the shapes and substances of all joyful things. 
His heart was hungry, yet satisfied, his soul was full of content- 
ment and joy : his prayers and hopes were all fulfilled. And 
the Friar could do naught but contemplate this Shining Bright- 
ness ; and he altogether forgot himself and all other things. 
Was it day or night ? He knew not. It was, as it were, a 
manifestation of the sweetness of Eternal Life in the sensations of 
silence and of rest. Then he said, ' If that which I see and feel 
be not the Kingdom of Heaven, I know not what it can be : for 
it is very sure that the endurance of all possible pains were but 
a poor price to pay for the eternal possession of so great a joy.' " 

The physical accompaniments of ecstasy were also present. 
" This ecstasy lasted from half an hour to an hour, and whether 
his soul were in the body or out of the body he could not tell. 
But when he came to his senses it seemed to him that he 






THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 227 

returned from another world. And so greatly did his body 
suffer in this short rapture that it seemed to him that none, 
even in dying, could suffer so greatly in so short a time. The 
Servitor came to himself moaning, and he fell down upon the 
ground like a man who swoons. And he cried inwardly, heaving 
great sighs from the depth of his soul and saying, ' Oh, my God, 
where was I and where am I ? * And again, ' Oh, my heart's 
joy, never shall my soul forget this hour ! ' He walked, but it 
was but his body that walked, as a machine might do. None 
knew from his demeanour that which was taking place within. 
But his soul and his spirit were full of marvels ; heavenly 
lightnings passed and repassed in the deeps of his being, and 
it seemed to him that he walked on air. And all the powers of 
his soul were full of these heavenly delights. He was like a 
vase from which one has taken a precious ointment, but in 
which the perfume long remains." 

Finally, the last phrases of the chapter seem to suggest the 
true position of this exalted pleasure-state as a first link in the 
long chain of mystical development. "This foretaste of the 
happiness of heaven," he says, " the which the Servitor enjoyed 
for many days, excited in him a most lively desire for God." * 

Mystical activity, then, like all other activities of the self, 
opens with that sharp stimulation of the will which can only be 
obtained through the emotional life. 

Suso was a scholar, and an embryo ecclesiastic. During the 
period which elapsed between his conversion and his description 
of it he was a disciple of Meister Eckhart, a student of Dionysius 
and St. Thomas Aquinas. His writings show familiarity with 
the categories of mystical theology ; and naturally enough this 
circumstance, and also the fact that they were written for pur- 
poses of edification, may have dictated to some extent the 
language in which his conversion-ecstasy is described. 

As against this, I will give two first-hand descriptions of 
mystical conversion in which it is obvious that theological 
learning plays little or no part. Both written in France within 
a few years of one another, they represent the impact of Reality 
on two minds of very different calibre. One is the secret docu- 
ment in which a great genius set down, in words intended only 
for his own eyes, the record of a two hours' ecstasy. The other 

1 Leben, cap. iii. 



228 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

is the plain, unvarnished statement of an uneducated man of the 
peasant class. The first is, of course, the celebrated Memorial, 
or Amulet, of Pascal ; the second is the Relation of Brother 
Lawrence. 

The Memorial of Pascal is a scrap of parchment on which, 
round a rough drawing of the Flaming Cross, there are written 
a few strange phrases, abrupt and broken words ; the only news 
which has come to us concerning one of the strangest ecstatic 
revelations chronicled in the history of the mystic type. After 
Pascal's death a servant found a copy of this little document, 
now lost, sewn up in his doublet, He seems always to have 
worn it upon his person : a perpetual memorial of the supernal 
experience, the initiation into Reality, which it describes. 
Beyond what we can deduce from these few lines, we have no 
direct knowledge of the processes of Pascal's inner life : but we 
do know that this abrupt illumination came at the end of a long 
period of spiritual distress, in which indifference to his ordinary 
interests was counterbalanced by an utter inability to feel the 
attractive force of that Divine Reality which his great mind dis- 
cerned as the only adequate object of desire. 

The Memorial opens thus : — 



" L'an de grace 1654 

lundi, 23 novembre, jour de Saint Clement, pape 

et martyr, et autres au martyrologe, 

veille de Saint Chrysogone, martyr et autres, 

depuis environ dix heures et demie du soir jusques 

environ minuit et demie, 

Feu." 



f " From half-past ten till half-past twelve, Fire ! " That is all, 
so far as description is concerned ; but enough, apparently, to 
remind the initiate of all that passed. The rest tells us only 
the passion of joy and conviction which this nameless revelation 
— this long, blazing vision of Reality — brought in its train. It 
is but a series of amazed exclamations, crude, breathless 
words, placed there helter-skelter, the artist in him utterly in 
abeyance; the names of the overpowering emotions which 
swept him, one after the other, as the Fire of Love disclosed 
its secrets, evoked an answering flame of humility and rapture 
in his soul. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 229 

" Dieu d' Abraham, Dieu d' Isaac, Dieu de Jacob, 
Non des philosophes et des savants. 
Certitude. Certitude. Sentiment. Joie. Paix." 

" Not the God of philosophers and of scholars ! " cries in 
amazement this great scholar and philosopher abruptly turned 
from knowledge to love. 

"Oubli du monde et de tout hormis Dieu," he says again, 
seeing his universe suddenly swept clean of all but this Tran- 
scendent Fact. Then, " Le monde ne t'a point connu, maisje tai 
connu. Joie! joie! joie! pleurs de joie!" Compare with the 
classic style, the sharp and lucid definition of the " Pensees," the 
irony and glitter of the "Provinciales," these little broken phrases 
— this child-like stammering speech — in which a supreme master 
of language has tried to tell his wonder and his delight. I know 
few things in the history of mysticism at once more convincing, 
more poignant than this hidden talisman ; upon which the 
brilliant scholar and stylist, the merciless disputant, has jotted 
down in hard, crude words, which yet seem charged with passion 
— the inarticulate language of love — a memorial of the certitude, 
the peace, the joy, above all, the reiterated, all-surpassing joy, 
which accompanied his ecstatic apprehension of God. 

" Mon Dieu, me quitterez vous ? " he says again ; the fire 
apparently beginning to die down, the ecstasy drawing to an 
end. " Que je n'en sois pas s£pard £ternellement ! " " Are 
you going to leave me? Oh, let me not be separated from 
you for ever ! " — the one unendurable thought which would, 
said Aquinas, rob the Beatific Vision of its glory were we not 
sure that it can never fade. 1 But the rhapsody is over, the 
vision of the Fire has gone; and the rest of the Memorial 
clearly contains Pascal's meditations upon his experience, 
rather than a transcript of the experience itself. It ends with 
the watchword of all mysticism, Surrender — " Renonciation, 
totale et douce " in Pascal's words : the only way, he thinks, in 
which he can avoid continued separation from Reality. 2 

Pascal's long vision of Light, Life, and Love was highly 
ecstatic ; an indescribable, incommunicable experience, which 

1 "Summa Contra Gentiles," 1. iii. cap. lxii. 

2 The complete text of the " Memorial" is printed, among other places, in 
Faugere's edition of the " Pensees, Fragments et Lettres de Blaise Pascal," 2nd ed., 
Paris, 1897. Tome i. p. 269. 



230 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

can only be suggested by his broken words of certitude and joy. 
By his simple contemporary, Brother Lawrence, that Tran- 
scendent Reality Who "is not the God of philosophers and 
scholars," was perceived in a moment of abrupt intuition, 
peculiarly direct, unecstatic and untheological in type, but 
absolutely enduring in its results. Lawrence was an uneducated 
young man of the peasant class, who first served as a soldier, 
and afterwards as a footman in a great French family, where he 
annoyed his masters by breaking everything. When he was 
between fifty and sixty years of age, he entered the Carmelite 
Order as a lay brother ; and the letters, " spiritual maxims," and 
conversations belonging to this period of his life were published 
after his death in 1691. "He told me," says the anonymous 
reporter of the conversations, supposed to be M. Beaufort, who 
was about 1660 Grand Vicar to the Cardinal de Noailles, "that 
God had done him a singular favour in his conversion at the 
age of eighteen. That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of 
its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves 
would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, 
he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, 
which has never since been effaced from his souL That this 
view had set him perfectly loose from the world and kindled in 
him such a love for God that he could not tell whether it had 
increased in above forty years that he had lived since." x 

Such use of visible nature as the stuff of ontological per- 
ceptions, the medium whereby the self reaches out to the 
Absolute, is not rare in the history of mysticism. The 
mysterious, primordial vitality of trees and woods, instinct with 
energy, yet standing, as it were, upon the borderland of dream, 
appears — we know not why — to be particularly adapted to it. 
The silent magic of the forest, the strange and steady cycle of 
its life, possesses in a peculiar degree this power of unleashing 
the human scul : is curiously friendly to its cravings, ministers to 
its inarticulate needs. Unsullied by the corroding touch of 
consciousness, that life can make a contact with the " great life 
of the All " ; and through its mighty rhythms man can receive 
a message concerning the true and timeless World of " all that is, 
and was, and evermore shall be." Plant life of all kinds, indeed, 
from the " flower in the crannied wall " to the " Woods of 

1 Brother Lawrence, "The Practice of the Presence of God," p. 9. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 231 

Westermain " can easily become, for selves of a certain type, a 
"mode of the Infinite." So obvious does this appear when we 
study the history of the mystics, that Steiner has seen fit to 
draw from it the hardly warrantable inference that " plants 
are just those natural phenomena whose qualities in the higher 
world are similar to their qualities in the physical world." J 

Though the conclusion be not convincing, the fact remains. 
The flowery garment of the world is for some mystics a medium 
of ineffable perception, a source of exalted joy, the veritable 
clothing of God. I need hardly add that such a state of things 
has always been found incredible by common sense. " The tree 
which moves some to tears of joy," says Blake, who possessed 
in an eminent degree tru's form of sacramental perception, " is 
in the Eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the 
Way." = 

Such a perception of the Divine in Nature, of the true and 
holy meaning of that rich, unresting life in which we are immersed, 
is really a more usual feature of Illumination than of Conversion. 
All the most marked examples of it must be referred to that 
state ; and will be discussed when we come to its consideration. 
Sometimes, however, as in the case of Brother Lawrence, the 
first awakening of the self to consciousness of Reality does take 
this form. The Uncreated Light manifests Itself in and through 
created things. This characteristically immanental discovery 
of the Absolute occurs chiefly in two classes : in unlettered men 
who have lived close to Nature, and to whom her symbols are 
more familiar than those of the Churches or the schools, and in 
temperaments of the mixed or mystical type, who are nearer to 
the poet than to the true contemplative, for whom as a rule the 
Absolute " hath no image." " It was like entering into another 
world, a new state of existence," says a witness quoted by 
Starbuck, speaking of his own conversion. " Natural objects 
were glorified. My spiritual vision was so clarified that I saw 
beauty in every material object in the universe. The woods 
were vocal with heavenly music." " Oh, how I was changed ! 
Everything became new. My horses and hogs and everybody 
became changed ! " exclaims with narve astonishment another in 
the same collection.3 "When I went in the morning into the 

■ "The Way of Initiation," p. 134. 2 * Letters of William Blake," p. 62. 

3 •« The Psychology of Religion," p. 120. 



232 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

fields to work," says a third, " the glory of God appeared in all 
His visible creation. I well remember we reaped oats, and how 
every straw and head of the oats seemed, as it were, arrayed in 
a kind of rainbow glory, or to glow, if I may so express it, in 
the glory of God." ■ 

Amongst modern men, Walt Whitman possessed in a 
supreme degree the permanent sense of this glory, the " light 
rare, untellable, lighting the very light." 2 But evidences of its 
existence and the sporadic power of apprehending it are 
scattered up and down the literature of the world. Its dis- 
covery constitutes the awakening of the mystical consciousness 
in respect of the World of Becoming: a sharp and sudden break 
with the old and obvious way of seeing things. The human 
cinematograph has somehow changed its rhythm, and begins 
to register new and more real aspects of the external world. 
With this, the self's first escape from the limitations of its 
conventional universe, it receives an immense assurance of a 
great and veritable life surrounding^ sustaining, explaining its 
own. Thus Richard Jefferies says, of the same age as that at 
which Suso and Brother Lawrence awoke to sudden conscious- 
ness of Reality, " I was not more than eighteen when an inner 
and esoteric meaning began to come to me from all the visible 
universe." " I now became lost, and absorbed into the being or 
existence of the universe . . . and losing thus my separateness 
of being, came to seem like a part of the whole." " I feel on 
the margin of a life unknown, very near, almost touching it — on 
the verge of powers which, if I could grasp, would give me an 
immense breadth of existence." 3 

What was this " life unknown " but the Life known to the 
great mystics, which Richard Jefferies apprehended in these 
moments of insight, yet somehow contrived to miss ? 

Such participation in the deep realities of the World of 
Becoming, the boundless existence of a divine whole — which a 
modern psychologist has labelled and described as "Cosmic 
Consciousness " 4 — whilst it is not the final object of the mystic's 

* James, " Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 253. This phenomenon receives 
brilliant literary expression in John Masefield's poem "The Everlasting Mercy " (191 1). 

2 Whitman, " The Prayer of Columbus." 

3 " The Story of My Heart," pp. 8, 9, 45, 181. 

4 Bucke, "Cosmic Consciousness, a Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. ' 
Philadelphia, 1905. 






THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 233 

journey, is a constant feature of it. It represents one-half of his 
characteristic consciousness : an entrance into communion with 
the second of the Triune Powers of God, the Word which " is 
through .all things everlastingly." JerTeries stood, as so many 
mystically minded men have done, upon the verge of such a 
transcendental life. The " heavenly door," as Rolle calls it, was 
ajar but not pushed wide. He peeped through it to the greater 
world beyond ; but, unable to escape from the bonds of his 
selfhood, he did not pass through to live upon the independent 
spiritual plane. 

Rolle, Jefferies's fellow countryman, and his predecessor by 
close upon six hundred years in the ecstatic love and under- 
standing of natural things, shall be our last example of the 
mystical awakening. He, like his spiritual brother St. Francis, 
and other typical cases, had passed through a preliminary period 
of struggle and oscillation between worldly life and a vague but 
growing spirituality : between the superficial and the deeper self. 
"My youth was fond, my childhood vain, my young age 
unclean," 1 but "when I should flourish unhappily, and youth 
of wakeful age was now come, the grace of my Maker was near, 
the which lust of temporal shape restrained, and unto ghostly 
supplications turned my desires, and the soul, from low things 
lifted, to heaven has borne." a 

The real " life-changing," however, was sharply and charac- 
teristically marked off from this preparatory state. Rolle gives 
to it the name of Heat : as Song, to his musical soul, represents 
Illumination, and Sweetness Untrowed the Unitive Way. " Heat 
soothly I call when the mind truly is kindled in Love Everlast- 
ing, and the heart on the same manner to burn not hopingly 
but verily is felt. The heart truly turned into fire, gives feeling 
of burning love." This burning, it appears, is not to be looked 
upon as merely symbolic. In it we seem to have an unusual 
form of psycho-physical parallelism : a bodily expression of 
the psychic travail and distress accompanying the " New Birth." 
" More have I marvelled than I show, forsooth," he says in his 
prologue, " when I first felt my heart wax warm, and truly, not 
imaginingly, but as it were with a sensible fire, burned. I was 
forsooth marvelled, as this burning burst up in my soul, and of 
an unwonted solace ; for in my ignorance of such healing 
1 " Fire of Love," bk. i. cap. xiii. a Ibid., bk. i. cap. xvi. 



234 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

abundance, oft have I groped my breast, seeing whether this 
burning were of any bodily cause outwardly. But when I knew 
that only it was kindled of ghostly cause inwardly, and this 
burning was naught of fleshly love or desire, in this I conceived 
it was the gift of my Maker." i Further on, he gives another and 
more detailed account. " From the beginning, forsooth, of my 
life-changing and of my mind, to the opening of the heavenly 
door which Thy Face showed, that the heart might behold 
heavenly things and see by what way its Love it might seek 
and busily desire, three years are run except three months or 
four. The door, forsooth, biding open, a year near-by I passed 
unto the time in which the heat of Love Everlasting was verily 
felt in heart. I sat forsooth in a chapel and whilst with sweet- 
ness of prayer and meditation greatly I was delighted, suddenly 
in me I felt a merry heat and unknown. But at first I 
wondered doubting of whom it should be ; but a long time I am 
assured that not of the Creature but of my Maker it was, for 
more hot and gladder I found it." 2 

To this we must add a passage which I cannot but think one 
of the most beautiful expressions of spiritual joy to be found in 
mystical literature. It forms, as it were, a poetic gloss upon the 
experience just described : its sketch of the ideal mystic life, to 
the cultivation of which he then set himself, revealing in a few 
lines the charm of Rolle's character, its simplicity and gaiety, its 
capacity for ardent love. In it we see reflected the exquisite and 
Franciscan candour of soul which enabled him to live in his 
Yorkshire hermitage, as an earlier brother of the birds did upon 
the Umbrian hills, close to nature and close to God. 

" In the beginning truly of my conversion and singular 
purpose, I thought I would be like the little bird that for love 
of her lover longs, but in her longing she is gladdened when he 
comes that she loves. And joying she sings, and singing she 
longs, but in sweetness and heat. It is said the nightingale to 
song and melody all night is given, that she may please him to 
whom she is joined. How muckle more with greatest sweetness 
to Christ my Jesu should I sing, that is spouse of my soul by all 
this present life, that is night in regard of clearness to come." 3 

Glancing back at the few cases here brought together, we 

1 " Fire of Love," bk. i. caps. xv. and i. 2 Ibid. t bk. i. cap. xvi. 

3 Ibid., bk. ii. cap. xii. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 235 

can see in them, I think, certain similarities and diversities which 
are often of great psychological interest and importance : and 
which will be found to govern the subsequent development of 
the mystic life. We see in particular at this point, before puri- 
fication, or the remaking of character, begins, the reaction of the 
natural self, its heart and its mind, upon the uprush of new 
truth which operates " mystical conversion." This reaction is 
highly significant, and gives us a clue not only to the future 
development of the mystic, but to the general nature of man's 
spiritual consciousness. 

We have said » that this consciousness in its full develop- 
ment seems to be extended not in one but in two directions. 
These directions, these two fundamental ways of apprehending 
Reality, may be called the Eternal and Temporal, transcendent 
and immanent, Absolute and dynamic aspects of Truth. They 
comprise the twofold knowledge of a God Who is both Being 
and Becoming, near and far : pairs of opposites which ecstasy 
will carry up into a higher synthesis. But the first awakening 
of the mystic sense, the first breaking in of the supra-sensible 
upon the soul, will involve the emergence of one only of these 
two complementary forms of perception. One side always 
wakes first : the incoming message always choosing the path of 
least resistance. Hence mystical conversion tends to belong to 
one of two distinctive types : tends also as regards its expres- 
sion to follow that temperamental inclination to objectivize 
Reality as a Place, a Person, or a State which we found to 
govern the symbolic systems of the mystics. 2 

There is first, then, the apprehension of a splendour without : 
an expansive, formless, ineffable vision, a snatching up of the 
self, as it were, from knowledge of this world to some vague 
yet veritable knowledge of the next. The veil parts, and the 
Godhead is perceived under Its aspect of Transcendence. Not 
the personal touch of love transfiguring the soul, but the imper- 
sonal glory of a transfigured universe is the dominant note of 
this experience : and the reaction of the self takes the form of 
awe and rapture rather than of intimate affection. Of such a 
kind was the conversion of Suso, and in a less degree of Brother 
Lawrence. Of this kind also were the Light which Rulman 
Merswin saw, and the mystical perception of the being of 

1 Sutra, p. 42. 2 Ibid., p. 153. 



236 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

the universe reported by Richard Jefferies and countless 
others. 

This experience, if it is to be complete, if it is to involve the 
definite emergence of the self from "the prison of I -hood," its 
setting out upon the Mystic Way, requires an act of concentra- 
tion on the self's part as the complement of its initial act of 
expansion. It must pass beyond the stage of metaphysical 
rapture or fluid splendour, and crystallize into a definite concept, 
a definite and personal relation set up between the self and the 
Absolute Life. The vitality and efficiency of the conversion 
from sense to spirit, says Eucken, depends on the vividness of 
the apprehension of the new reality and on its authority for life. 1 
To be a spectator of Reality is not enough. The awakened 
subject is not merely to perceive transcendent life, but to par- 
ticipate therein. In Jefferies's case this crystallization, this heroic 
effort towards participation did not take place, and he never 
therefore laid hold of " the glory that has been revealed." In 
Suso's it did, " exciting in him a most lively desire for God." 

In most cases this crystallization, the personal and imperative 
concept which the mind constructs from the general and ineffable 
intuition of Reality, assumes a theological character. Often it 
presents itself to the consciousness in the form of visions or 
voices : objective, as the Crucifix which spoke to St. Francis, or 
mental, as the visions of the Cross in Rulman Merswin and St. 
Catherine of Genoa. Nearly always, this concept, this intimate 
realization of the divine, has reference to the love and sorrow at 
the heart of things, the discord between Perfect Love and an 
imperfect world ; whereas the complementary vision of Tran- 
scendence strikes a note of rapturous joy. " The beatings of the 
Heart of God sounded like so many invitations which thus 
spake: Come and do penance, come and be reconciled, come 
and be consoled, come and be blessed ; come, My love, and 
receive all that the Beloved can give to His beloved. . . . Come, 
My bride, and enjoy My Godhead." 2 

It is to this personal touch, to the individual appeal of an 
immediate Presence, not to the great light and the Beatific 
Vision, that the awakened self makes its most ardent, most 
heroic response. Not because he was rapt from himself, but 

1 See Boyce Gibson, "Rudolph Eucken's Philosophy," p. 85. 

2 St Mechthild of Hackborn, " Liber Specialis Gratis," 1. ii. cap. i. 



THE AWAKENING OF THE SELF 237 

because the figure on the Cross called him by name, saying, 
" Repair My Church " did St. Francis, with that simplicity, that 
disregard of worldly values which constituted his strength, accept 
the message in a literal sense and set himself instantly to the 
work demanded ; bringing stones, and, in defiance alike of 
comfort and convention, building up with his own hands the 
crumbling walls. 

In many conversions to the mystic life, the revelation of 
an external splendour, the shining vision of the transcendent 
spiritual world, is wholly absent. The self awakes to that 
which is within, rather than to that which is without: to the 
Immanent not the Transcendent God, to the personal not the 
cosmic relation. Where those who look out receive the revela- 
tion of Divine Beauty, those who look in receive rather the 
wound of Divine Love : another aspect of the " triple star." I 
need not point out that Richard Rolle and Madame Guyon are 
extreme examples of this type : but it is seen in perhaps a more 
balanced form in St. Catherine of Genoa. 

Both Madame Guyon and St. Catherine compare the anguish 
and abruptness of that inward revelation, its rending apart of the 
hard tissues of I-hood and its inevitable setting in relief of their 
own poor finite selves, to a wound. It is "the wound of Un- 
measured Love," says the legend of St. Catherine : an image in 
which we seem to hear the very accents of the saint. " A wound 
full of delight," says the more effusive Frenchwoman, " I wished 
that it might never heal." Rolle calls this piercing rapture a 
great heat : the heat which is to light the Fire of Love. " As it 
were if the finger were put in fire, it should be clad with feeling 
of burning : so the soul with love (as aforesaid) set afire, truly 
feels most very heat." ■ 

Love, passionate and all-dominant, here takes the place of 
that joyous awe which we noticed as the characteristic reaction 
upon reality in conversions of the Transcendent type. In the 
deep and strong temperaments of the great mystics this love 
passes quickly — sometimes instantly — from the emotional to the 
volitional stage. Their response to the voice of the Absolute is 
not merely an effusion of sentiment, but an act of will : an act 
often of so deep and comprehensive a kind as to involve the 
complete change of the outward no less than of the inward life. 

1 " The Fire of Love," bk. i. cap. i. 



238 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

" Divine love," says Dionysius, " draws those whom it seizes 
beyond themselves : and this so greatly that they belong no 
longer to themselves but wholly to the Object loved." " 

Merswin's oath of self-surrender : St. Catherine of Genoa's 
passionate and decisive " No more world ! no more sins ! " : St. 
Francis's naive and instant devotion to church-restoration in its 
most literal sense : these things are earnests of the reality of the 
change. They represent — symbolize as well as they can upon 
the sensual plane — the inevitable response of every living 
organism to a fresh external stimulus : its adjustment to the 
new conditions which that stimulus represents. They complete 
the process of conversion : which is not one-sided, not merely 
an infusion into the surface-consciousness of new truth, but 
rather the beginning of a life-process, a breaking down of the 
old and building up of the new : a never to be ended give-and- 
take, now set up between the individual and the Absolute. The 
Spirit of Life has been born : and the first word it learns to say 
is Abba> Father. It aspires to its origin ; to Life in its most 
intense manifestation : hence all its instincts urge it to that 
activity which it feels to be inseparable from life. It knows 
itself a member of that mighty family in which the stars are 
numbered : the family of the sons of God, who, free and creative, 
sharing the rapture of a living, striving Cosmos, "shout for joy." 

So, even in its very beginning, we see how active, how 
profoundly organic, how deeply and widely alive is the true 
contemplative life ; how truly on the transcendent as on the 
phenomenal plane, the law of living things is action and reaction, 
force and energy. The awakening of the self is to a new and 
more active plane of being, new and more personal relations 
with Reality; hence to new and more real work which it 
must do. 

1 Dionysius the Areopagite, "De Divinis Nominibus," iv. 13. 






CHAPTER III 

THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 

Purification the necessary corollary of conversion — The Selfs adjustment to 
Reality — Cleansing of the powers of perception — Acquirement of "goodness" — 
Self-knowledge — Contrition — St. Catherine of Genoa on Purgatory — Love the agent 
of purification — Purgation accompanies the whole mystic life ; but the Purgative Way 
is the completion of conversion — Self-simplification — Cleansing and stripping — 
Detachment — Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience : the fundamental mystic virtues — 
Spiritual Poverty : the essence of liberty — Jacopone da Todi on Poverty — St. Francis 
of Assisi — The " Sacrum Commercium " — Eckhart on Detachment — An attitude not an 
act — Its various forms — St. Teresa — Antoinette Bourignan — St. Douceline — Per- 
verted detachment — Mortification — The positive aspect of Purgation — The remaking 
of character — Death of the lower nature — Once the new life is established, mortifica- 
tion ends — "The Mirror of Simple Souls" — St. Catherine of Genoa — The psycho- 
logical aspect of mortification — Active suffering — The heroic side of purification — 
Tauler — The conquest of fastidiousness — St. Francis of Assisi — Margery Kempe — St. 
Catherine of Genoa — Madame Guyon — Purgation essential to all mysticism — Its last 
stages — The Game of Love — The fluctuating transcendental consciousness — Rulman 
Merswin — The Passage from Purgation to Illumination — The three factors of the 
Purgative Way — Conclusion 

HERE, then, stands the newly awakened self : aware, for 
the first time, of reality, responding to that reality by 
deep movements of love and of awe. She sees herself, 
however, not merely to be thrust into a new world, but set at 
the beginning of a new road. Activity is now to be her watch- 
word, pilgrimage the business of her life. " That a quest there 
is, and an end, is the single secret spoken." Under one symbol 
or another, that long slow process of transcendence, of character 
building, whereby she is to attain freedom, become capable of 
living upon high levels of reality, is present in her consciousness. 
Those to whom this secret is not imparted are no mystics, in 
the exact sense in which that word is here used ; however great 
their temporary illumination may have been. 

239 



240 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

What must be the first step of the self upon this road to 
perfect union with the Absolute? Clearly, a getting rid of all 
those elements of normal experience which are not in harmony 
with reality : of illusion, evil, imperfection of every kind. By 
false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself 
a false universe : as a mollusc, by the deliberate and persistent 
absorption of lime and rejection of all else, can build up for 
itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, 
and only represents in a distorted and unrecognisable form the 
ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly 
unnutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface- 
consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each 
separate soul. A literal and deliberate getting out of the cave 
must be for every mystic, as it was for Plato's prisoners, the first 
step in the individual hunt for reality. 

In the plain language of old-fashioned theology "man's sin 
is stamped upon man's universe." We see a sham world 
because we live a sham life. We do not know ourselves ; hence 
do not know the true character of our senses ; hence attribute 
wrong values to their suggestions and declarations concerning 
our relation to the external world. That world, which we have 
distorted by identifying it with our own self-regarding arrange- 
ment of its elements, has got to reassume for us the character of 
Reality, of God. In the purified sight of the great mystics it 
did reassume this character: their shells were opened wide, 
they knew the tides of the Eternal Sea. This lucid apprehen- 
sion of the True is what we mean when we speak of the 
Illumination which results from a faithful acceptance of the 
trials of the Purgative Way. 

The normal self as it exists in the normal world — the * old 
Adam " of St. Paul — is wholly incapable of supersensual adven- 
ture. All its activities are grouped about a centre of consciousness 
whose correspondences are with the material world. In the 
moment of its awakening, it is abruptly made aware of this 
disability. It knows itself finite. It now inspires to the 
infinite. It is encased in the hard crust of individuality : it 
aspires to union with a larger self. It is fettered : it longs for 
freedom. Its every sense is attuned to illusion : it craves for 
harmony with the Absolute Truth. " God is the only Reality," 
says Patmore, " and we are real only as far as we are in His 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 241 

order and He is in us." * Whatever form, then, the mystical 
adventure may take, it must be preceded by a change in the 
attitude of the subject ; a change which will introduce it into 
the order of Reality, and enable it to set up permanent relations 
with an Object which is not normally part of its universe. 
Therefore, though the end of mysticism is not goodness, it 
entails the acquirement of goodness. The virtues are the 
"ornaments of the spiritual marriage" because that marriage 
is union with the Good no less than with the Beautiful and the 
True. 

Primarily, then, the self must be purged of all that stands 
between it and goodness : putting on the character of reality 
instead of the character of illusion or " sin." It longs ardently 
to do this from the first moment in which it sees itself in the 
all-revealing radiance of the Uncreated Light. "When once 
love openeth the inner eye of the soul for to see this truth," 
says Hilton, " with other circumstances that attend it, then 
beginneth the soul to be really humble ; for then through the 
sight of God it feeleth and seeth itself as it is, and then doth 
the soul forsake the beholding and leaning upon itself." 2 

So, with Dante, the first terrace of the Mount of Purgatory 
is devoted to the cleansing of pride and the production of 
humility. Such a process is the inevitable — one might almost 
say mechanical — result of a vision, however fleeting, of Reality ; 
an undistorted sight of the earthbound self. All its life it has 
been measuring its candlelight by other candles. Now for the 
first time it is out in the open air and sees the sun. " This is 
the way," said the voice of God to St. Catherine of Siena in 
ecstasy. " If thou wilt arrive at a perfect knowledge and enjoy- 
ment of Me, the Eternal Truth, thou shouldst never go outside 
the knowledge of thyself; and by humbling thyself in the 
valley of humility thou wilt know Me and thyself, from which 
knowledge thou wilt draw all that is necessary. ... In self 
knowledge, then, thou wilt humble thyself; seeing that, in 
thyself, thou dost not even exist." 3 

The first thing that the self observes, when it turns back 
upon itself in that moment of lucidity — enters, as St. 
Catherine says, into "the cell of self-knowledge," — is the 

1 "The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," " Magna Moralia," xxii. 

3 •' The Scale of Perfection," bk. Hi. cap. vii. 3 Dialogo, cap. iv. 

R 



r 



242 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

horrible contrast between its clouded contours and the pure 
sharp radiance of the Real ; between its muddled faulty life, 
its perverse self-centred drifting, and the clear onward sweep 
of that Becoming in which it is immersed. It is then that 
the outlook of rapture and awe receives the countersign of 
humility. The harbinger of that new self which must be 
born appears under the aspect of a desire : a passionate 
longing to escape from the suddenly perceived hatefulness of 
selfhood, and to conform to Reality, the Perfect which it 
has seen under its aspect of Goodness, of Beauty, or of Love 
— to be worthy of it, in fact to be real. " This showing," 
says Gerlac Petersen of that experience, "is so vehement 
and so strong that the whole of the interior man, not only 
of his heart but of his body, is marvellously moved and 
shaken, and faints within itself, unable to endure it. And 
by this means, his interior aspect is made clear without any 
cloud, and conformable in its own measure to Him whom he 
seeks." x 

The lives of the mystics abound in instances of the 
" vehemence of this showing " : of the deep-seated sense of 
necessity which urges the newly awakened self to a life of 
discomfort and conflict, often to intense poverty and pain, as 
the only way of replacing false experience by true. Here the 
transcendental consciousness, exalted by a clear intuition of its 
goal, and not merely " counting " but perceiving the world to be 
obviously well lost for such a prize, takes the reins. It forces 
on the unwilling surface mind a sharp vision of its own 
disabilities : its ugly and imperfect life. 

The love of Ideal Beauty which is closely bound up with the 
mystic temperament makes instant response. " No more sins ! " 
was the first cry of St. Catherine of Genoa in that crucial hour 
in which she saw by the light of love the ugly and distorted 
nature of her past. She entered forthwith upon the Purgative 
Way, in which for four years she suffered under a profound 
sense of imperfection, endured fasting, solitude, and mortification, 
and imposed upon herself the most repulsive duties in her 
efforts towards that self-conquest which should make her "con- 
formable in her own measure " to the dictates of that Pure Love 
which was the aspect of reality that she had seen. It is the 

1 "Ignitum cum Deo Soliloquium," cap. xi. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 243 

inner conviction that this conformity — this transcendence of the 
unreal — is possible and indeed normal, which upholds the mystic 
during the terrible years of Purgation : so that " not only 
without heaviness, but with a joy unmeasured he casts back all 
thing that may him let." x 

To the true lover of the Absolute, Purgation no less than 
Illumination is a privilege, a dreadful joy. It is an earnest of 
increasing life. " Let me suffer or die ! " said St. Teresa : a 
strange alternative in the ears of common sense, but a forced 
option in the spiritual sphere. However harsh its form, 
however painful the activities to which it spurs him, the mystic 
recognizes in this break-up of his old universe an essential part 
of the Great Work : and the act in which he turns to it is an 
act of love no less than an act of will. " Burning of love into a 
soul truly taken all vices purgeth : ... for whilst the true lover 
with strong and fervent desire into God is borne, all things him 
displease that from the sight of God withdraw." 2 His eyes 
once opened, he is eager for that ordering of his disordered 
loves which alone can establish his correspondences with Tran- 
scendental Life. " Teach me my only joy," cries Suso, " the 
way in which I may bear upon my body the marks of Thy 
Love." " Come, my soul, depart from outward things and 
gather thyself together into a true interior silence, that thou 
mayst set out with all thy courage and bury and lose thyself in 
the desert of a deep contrition." 3 

It is in this torment of contrition, this acute consciousness 
of unworthiness, that we have the first swing-back of the oscil- 
lating self from the initial state of mystic pleasure to the 
complementary state of pain. It is, so to speak, on its tran- 
scendental side, the reflex action which follows the first touch of 
God. Thus, we read that Rulman Merswin, " swept away by 
the transports of Divine Love," did not surrender himself to the 
passive enjoyment of this first taste of Absolute Being, but was 
impelled by it to diligent and instant self-criticism. He was 
'seized with a hatred of his body, and inflicted on himself such 
hard mortifications that he fell ill." * 

1 Richard Rolle, " The Mending of Life," cap. i. 

2 Ibid., " The Fire of Love," bk. i. cap xxiii. 

3 "Buchlein von der ewigen Weisheit," cap. v. 

4 Jundt, " Rulman Merswin," p. 1.9. 



2U AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

It is useless for lovers of healthy-mindedness to resent this 
and similar examples of self-examination and penance : to label 
them morbid or mediaeval. The fact remains that only such 
bitter knowledge of wrongness of relation, seen by the light of 
ardent love, can spur the will of man to the hard task of 
readjustment. 

" I saw full surely," says Julian of Norwich, " that it behoveth 
needs to be that we should be in longing and in penance until 
the time that we be led so deep into God that we verily and 
truly know our own soul." x 

Dante's whole journey up the Mount of Purgation is the 
dramatic presentation of this one truth. So, too, the celebrated 
description of Purgatory attributed to St. Catherine of Genoa 2 
is obviously founded upon its author's inward experience of this 
Purgative Way. In it, she applies to the souls of the dead her 
personal consciousness of the necessity of purification ; its place 
in the organic process of spiritual growth. It is, as she 
acknowledges at the beginning, the projection of her own 
psychological adventures upon the background of the spiritual 
world : its substance being simply the repetition after death of 
that eager and heroic acceptance of suffering, those drastic acts 
of purification which she has herself been compelled to under- 
take under the whip of the same psychic necessity — that of 
removing the rust of illusion, cleansing the mirror in order that 
it may receive the divine light. "It is," she says, " as with a 
covered object, the object cannot respond to the rays of the 
sun, not because the sun ceases to shine — for it shines without 
intermission — but because the covering intervenes. Let the 
covering be destroyed, and again the object will be exposed to 
the sun, and will answer to the rays which beat against it in 
proportion as the work of destruction advances. Thus the 
souls are covered by a rust — that is, by sin — which is gradually 
consumed away by the fire of purgatory. The more it is con- 
sumed, the more they respond to God their true Sun. Their 
happiness increases as the rust falls off and lays them open to 

* u Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lvi. 

1 I offer no opinion upon this question of authorship. Those interested may con- 
sult Von Hiigel, "The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. i., Appendix. Whoever 
may be responsible for its present form, the Treatise is clearly founded upon first-hand 
mystic experience : which is all that our present purpose requires. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 245 

the divine ray . . . the instinctive tendency to seek happiness 
in God develops itself, and goes on increasing through the fire 
of love, which draws it to its end with such impetuosity and 
vehemence that any obstacle seems intolerable ; and the more 
clear its vision, the more extreme its pain." » 

" Mostratene la via di gire al monte ! " cry the souls of the 
newly-dead in Dante's vision, 2 pushed by that "instinctive 
tendency" towards the purifying flames. Such a tendency, 
such a passionate desire, the aspiring self must have. No cool, 
well-balanced knowledge of the need of new adjustments will 
avail to set it on the Purgative Way. This is a heroic act, and 
demands heroic passions in the soul. 

"In order to overcome our desires and to deny ourselves in 
all things," says St. John of the Cross, who is the classic 
authority upon this portion of the mystic quest, " our love 
and inclination for which are wont so to inflame the will that 
it delights therein, we require another and greater fire of another 
and nobler love — that of the Bridegroom — so that having all 
our joy in Him, and deriving from Him all our strength, we 
may gain such resolution and courage as shall enable us easily 
to abandon and deny all besides. It was necessary, in order to 
subdue our sensual desires, not only to have this love for the 
Bridegroom, but also to be on fire therewith, and that with 
anxiety ... if our spiritual nature were not on fire with other 
and nobler anxieties — anxieties for that which is spiritual — we 
should never overcome our natural and sensible satisfactions, 
nor be able to enter on the night of sense, neither should we 
have the courage to remain in the darkness, in the denial of 
every desire." 3 

"It is necessary to be on fire with love, and that with 
anxiety." Only this deep and ardent passion for a perceived 
Object of Love can persuade the mystic to those unnatural acts 
of abnegation on which he kills his lesser love of the world of 
sense, frees himself from the " remora of desire," unifies all his 
energies about the new and higher centre of his life. His 
business, I have said, is transcendence : a mounting up, an 
attainment of a higher order of reality. r ^ Once his eyes have 
been opened on Eternity, his instinct for the Absolute roused 

1 " Trattato di Purgatorio," caps. ii. and iii. 2 Purg. ii. 60. 

3 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. i. cap. xiv. 



246 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

from its sleep, he sees union with that Reality as his duty no 
less than his joy : sees too that this union can only be con- 
summated on a plane where illusion and selfhood have no 
place. 

The inward voice says to him perpetually at the least season- 
able moments, " Dimitte omnia transitoria, quaere aeterna." * 
Hence the purgation of the senses and of the character 
which they have helped to build is always placed first in 
order in the Mystic Way ; though sporadic flashes of illumina- 
tion and ecstasy may, and often do, precede and accompany it. 
Since spiritual no less than physical existence is, as we know 
it, an endless Becoming, it too has no end. In a sense the 
whole of the mystical experience in this life consists in a series 
of purifications, whereby the Finite slowly approaches the 
nature of its Infinite Source : climbing up the cleansing 
mountain pool by pool, like the industrious fish in Rulman 
Merswin's vision, until it reaches its Origin. The greatest of 
the contemplative saints, far from leaving purgation behind 
them in their progress, were increasingly aware of their own 
inadequateness, the nearer they approached to the unitive state : 
for the true lover of the Absolute, like every other lover, is 
alternately abased and exalted by his unworthiness and his 
good fortune. There are moments of high rapture when he 
knows only that the banner over him is Love : but there are 
others in which he remains bitterly conscious that in spite of 
his uttermost surrender there is within him an ineradicable 
residuum of selfhood which "stains the white radiance of 
eternity." 

In this sense, then, purification is a perpetual process. That 
which mystical writers mean, however, when they speak of the 
Way of Purgation, is rather the slow and painful completion of 
Conversion. It is the drastic turning of the self from the unreal 
to the real life : a setting of her house in order, an orientation of 
the mind to Truth. Its business is the getting rid, first of self- 
love ; and secondly of all those foolish interests in which the 
surface-consciousness is steeped. 

" The essence of purgation," says Richard of St. Victor, " is 
self-simplification." Nothing can happen until this has pro- 
ceeded a certain distance : till the involved interests and 

1 " De Imitatione Christi," 1. iii. cap. i. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 247 

tangled motives of the self are simplified, and the false compli- 
cations of temporal life are recognized and cast away. 

" No one," says another authority in this matter, " can be 
enlightened unless he be first cleansed or purified and stripped." * 
Purgation, which is the remaking of character in conformity 
with perceived reality, consists in these two essential acts : the 
cleansing of that which is to remain, the stripping of that which 
is to be done away. It may best be studied, therefore, in two 
parts : and I think that it will be in the reader's interest if we 
reverse the order which the " Theologia Germanica " adopts, and 
first consider Negative Purification, or self-stripping, and next 
Positive Purification, or character-adjustment. These, then, 
are the branches into which this subject will here be split, 
(i) The Negative aspect, the stripping or purging away of 
those superfluous, unreal, and harmful things which dissipate the 
precious energies of the self. This is the business of Poverty, 
or Detachment. (2) The Positive aspect : a raising to their 
highest term, their purest state, of all that remains — the per- 
manent elements of character. This is brought about by 
Mortification : the gymnastic of the soul : a deliberate recourse 
to painful experiences and difficult tasks. 

1. Detachment 

Apart from the plain necessity of casting out imperfec- 
tion and sin, what is the type of " good character " which 
will best serve the self in its journey towards union with the 
Absolute ? 

The mystics of all ages and all faiths agree in their answer. 
Those three virtues which the instinct of the Catholic Church 
fixed upon as the necessities of the cloistered life — the great 
Evangelical counsel of voluntary Poverty with its departments : 
Chastity, the poverty of the senses, and Obedience, the poverty 
of the will — are also, when raised to their highest term and trans- 
muted by the Fire of Love, the. essential virtues of the mystical 
quest. 

By Poverty the mystic means an utter self-stripping, the 
casting off of immaterial as well as material wealth, a complete 
detachment from all finite things. By Chastity he means an 

1 " Theologia Germanica,'' cap. xiv. 



248 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

extreme and limpid] purity of soul, virgin to all but God : 
by Obedience, that abnegation of selfhood, that mortifica- 
tion of the will which results in a complete humility, a 
"holy indifference" to the accidents of life. These three 
aspects of perfection are really one: linked together 
as irrevocably as the three aspects of the self. Their 
common characteristic is this : they tend to make the subject 
regard itself, not as an isolated and interesting individual, 
possessing desires and rights, but as a scrap of the Cosmos, 
an ordinary bit of the Universal Life, only important, as a part 
of the All, an expression of the Will Divine, Detachment and 
purity go hand in hand, for purity is but detachment of the 
heart ; and where these are present they bring with them that 
humble spirit of obedience which expresses detachment of will. 
We may therefore treat them as three manifestations of one 
thing : which thing is Inward Poverty. " Blessed are the poor 
in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven," is the motto of 
all pilgrims on this road. 

" God is pure Good in Himself," says Eckhart, " therefore will 
He dwell nowhere but in a pure soul. There He can pour 
Himself out : into that He can wholly flow. What is Purity ? 
It is that a man should have turned himself away from all 
creatures and have set his heart so entirely on the Pure Good that 
no creature is to him a comfort, that he has no desire for aught 
creaturely, save so far as he may apprehend therein the Pure 
Good, which is God. And as little as the bright eye can endure 
aught foreign in it, so little can the pure soul bear anything in 
it, any stain on it, that comes between it and God. To it all 
creatures are pure to enjoy ; for it enjoyeth all creatures in God, 
and God in all creatures." x 

" To it all creatures are pure to enjoy ! " This is hardly the 
popular concept of the mystic ; which credits him, in the teeth 
of such examples as St. Francis, St. Mechthild of Magdeburg, 
Rolle, Suso, and countless others, with a hearty dread of natural 
things. Too many mistaken ascetics of the type of the 
Cur6 d'Ars, who would not smell a rose for fear of sin, have 
supported in this respect the vulgar belief; for it is generally 
forgotten that though most mystics have practised asceticism as 
a means to an end, all ascetics are not mystics. Whatever may 

1 Meister Eckhart, quoted by Wackernagel, " Altdeutsches Lesebuch," p. 891. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 249 

be the case with other deniers of the senses, it is true that the 
pure soul of the mystic, dwelling on high levels of reality, his 
eyes set on the Transcendental World, is capable of combining 
with the perfection of detachment that intense and innocent joy 
in natural things, as veils and vessels of the divine, which results 
from seeing "all creatures in God and God in all creatures." 
1 Whoso knows and loves the nobleness of My Freedom," said 
the voice of God to Mechthild of Magdeburg, " cannot bear to 
love Me alone, he must also love Me in the creatures." * Such 
a power is characteristic of the illumination which results from a 
faithful endurance of the Purgative Way ; for the corollary of 
'blessed are the pure in heart" is not merely a poetic state- 
ment. The annals of mysticism prove it to be a psycho- 
logical law. 

How then is this contradiction to be resolved : that the 
mystic who has declared the fundamental necessity of " leaving 
all creatures " yet finds them pure to enjoy ? The answer to 
the riddle lies in the ancient paradox of Poverty : that we only 
enjoy true liberty in respect of such things as we neither possess 
nor desire. "That thou mayest have pleasure in everything, 
seek pleasure in nothing. That thou mayest know everything, 
seek to know nothing. That thou mayest possess all things, seek 
to possess nothing. ... In detachment the spirit finds quiet 
and repose, for coveting nothing, nothing wearies it by elation ; 
and nothing oppresses it by dejection, because it stands in 
the centre of its own humility. For as soon as it covets any- 
thing it is immediately fatigued thereby." * 

It is not love but lust — the possessive case, the very food of 
selfhood — which poisons the relation between the self and the 
external world and "immediately fatigues" the soul. Divide 
the world into " mine " and " not mine," and unreal standards 
are set up, claims and cravings begin to fret the mind. We are 
the slaves of our own property. We drag with us not a treasure, 
but a chain. " Behold," says the " Theologia Germanica," " on 
this sort must we cast all things from us and strip ourselves of 
them: we must refrain from claiming anything for our own. 
When we do this, we shall have the best, fullest, clearest, 
and noblest knowledge that a man can have, and also the 

1 " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. vi., cap. 4. 

8 St. Tohn of the Cross, " Subida del Monte Carmelo," bk. i. cap. xiii. 



250 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

nobiest and purest love and desire." l " He will not behold the 
Light who attempts to ascend to the vision of the Supreme 
whilst he is drawn downwards by those things that are an 
obstacle to the vision," says Plotinus, " for he does not ascend 
alone, but brings with him that which separates him from the 
One : in a word, he is not made one." 2 Accept Poverty, how- 
ever, demolish ownership, the verb " to have " in every mood 
and tense, and this downward drag is at an end. At once the 
Cosmos belongs to you and you to it. You escape the heresy 
of separateness, are " made one," and merged in " the greater 
life of the All." Then, a free spirit in a free world, the self 
moves upon its true orbit undistracted by the largely self- 
imposed responsibilities of ordinary earthly existence. 

This was the truth which St. Francis of Assisi grasped, 
and applied with the energy of a reformer and the delicate 
originality of a poet to every circumstance of the inner and 
the outer life. This noble liberty it is which is extolled by 
his spiritual descendant, Jacopone da Todi, in one of his most 
magnificent odes : — 

" Poverta alto sapere 

a nulla cosa sojacere 
en desprezo possedere 
tutte le cose create. . . . 

Dio non alberga en core strecto 
tant'e grande quantai affecto 
povertate ha si gran pecto 
die ci alberga deitate. . . . 

Povertate e nulla havere 
et nulla cosa poi volere 
et omne cosa possedere 
en spirito de libertate." 3 



1 " Theologia Germanica,'' cap. v. 

2 Ennead vi. g. 

3 " Oh Poverty, high wisdom ! to be subject to nothing, and by despising all to 
possess all created things. . . . 

God will not lodge in a narrow heart ; and it is as great as thy love. Poverty 
has so ample a bosom that Deity Itself may lodge therein. . . . 

Poverty is naught to have and nothing to desire : but all things to possess in 
the spirit of liberty."— -Jacopone da 7odi. Lauda lix. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 251 

" My little sisters the birds," said St. Francis, greatest adept 
of that high wisdom, "Brother Sun, Sister Water, Mother 
Earth." x Not my servants, but my kindred and fellow- 
citizens ; who may safely be loved so long as they are not 
desired. So, in almost identical terms, the dying Hindu 
ascetic : — 

"Oh Mother Earth, Father Sky, 
Brother Wind, Friend Light, Sweetheart Water, 
Here take my last salutation with folded hands ! 
For to-day I am melting away into the Supreme 
Because my heart became pure, 
And all delusion vanished, 
Through the power of your good company." 

It is the business of Lady Poverty to confer on her lovers 
this freedom of the Universe, to eradicate delusion, purify the 
heart, and initiate them into the "great life of the All." 
Well might St. Francis desire marriage with that enchantress, 
who gives back ten-fold all that she takes away. " Holy 
poverty," he said, " is a treasure so high excelling and so 
divine that we be not worthy to lay it up in our vile vessels ; 
since this is that celestial virtue whereby all earthly things 
and fleeting are trodden underfoot, and whereby all hind- 
rances are lifted from the soul so that freely she may join 
herself to God Eternal." 2 

Poverty is the matchmaker between God and the spirit 
of man. Never will the union to which that spirit tends take 
place without her good offices, her drastic separation of the 
unreal from the real. She strips off the clothing which man so 
often mistakes for himself, transvaluates all his values, and 
shows him things as they are. Thus, in that beautiful chapter 
of the " Sacrum Commercium," which describes how the friars, 
climbing "the steeps of the hill," find Lady Poverty at the 
summit "enthroned only in her nakedness," we are told that 
she "preventing them with the blessings of sweetness," said, 
"Why hasten ye so from the vale of tears to the mount of 
light? If, peradventure, it is me that ye seek, lo, I am but as 
you behold, a little poor one, stricken with storms and far 

* " Fioretti," cap. xvi., and "Speculum," cap. cxx. 
8 Ibid. t cap. xiii. (Arnold's translation). 



252 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

from any consolation." Whereto the brothers answer, " Only 
admit us to thy peace ; and we shall be saved." x 

The same truth : the saving peace of utter detachment 
from everything but Divine Reality — a detachment which 
makes those who have it the citizens of the world, and 
enabled the friars to say to Lady Poverty as they showed 
her from the hill of Assisi the whole countryside at her feet, 
" Hoc est claustrum nostrum, Domina," 2 is taught by Meister 
Eckhart in a more homely parable. 

There was a learned man who, eight years long, desired 
that God would show him a man who would teach him the 
truth. And once when he felt a very great longing a voice from 
God came to him and said, "Go to the church and there 
shalt thou find a man who shalt show thee the way to blessed- 
ness." And he went thence, and found a poor man whose 
feet were torn and covered with dust and dirt : and all his 
clothes were hardly worth three farthings. And he greeted 
him, saying : — 

" God give you good day ! " 

He answered : " I have never had a bad day." 

" God give you good luck." 

" I have never had ill luck." 

" May you be happy ! but why do you answer me thus ? " 

" I have never been unhappy." 

" Pray explain this to me, for I cannot understand it" 

The poor man answered, "Willingly. You wished me 
good day. I never had a bad day ; for if I am hungry I praise 
God ; if it freezes, hails, snows, rains, if the weather is fair or 
foul, still I praise God ; am I wretched and despised, I praise 
God, and so I have never had an evil day. You wished 
that God would send me luck. But I never had ill luck, for 
I know how to live with God, and I know that what He 
does is best ; and what God gives me or ordains for me, be 
it good or ill, I take it cheerfully from God as the best that 
can be, and so I have never had ill luck. You wished that 
God would make me happy. I was never unhappy ; for my 
only desire is to live in God's will, and I have so entirely 
yielded my will to God's, that what God wills, I will." 

1 "Sacrum Commercium Beati Francisci cum Domina Paupertate," caps. iv. 
and v. (Rawnsley's translation). 2 Op. cit., cap. xxii. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 253 

"But if God should will to cast you into hell," said the 
learned man, " what would you do then ? " 

" Cast me into hell ? His goodness forbids ! But if He 
did cast me into hell, I should have two arms to embrace Him. 
One arm is true humility, that I should lay beneath Him, and 
be thereby united to His holy humanity. And with the right 
arm of love, which is united with His holy divinity, I should so 
embrace Him that He would have to go to hell with me. 
And I would rather be in hell and have God, than in heaven 
and not have God." 

Then the Master understood that true abandonment with 
utter humility is the nearest way to God. 

The Master asked further : " Whence are you come ? " 

" From God." 

" Where did you find God ? " 

" When I forsook all creatures." 

" Where have you left God ? " 

"In pure hearts, and in men of good will." 

The Master asked : " What sort of man are you ? " 

" I am a king." 

" Where is your kingdom ? " 

" My soul is my kingdom, for I can so rule my senses inward 
and outward that all the desires and powers of my soul are in 
subjection, and this kingdom is greater than a kingdom on 
earth." * 

" What brought you to this perfection ? " 

" My silence, my high thoughts, and my union with God. 
For I could not rest in anything that was less than God. Now 
I have found God ; and in God have eternal rest and peace." 2 

Poverty, then, consists in a breaking down of man's invete- 
rate habit of trying to rest in, or take seriously, things which 
are " less than God " : i.e., which do not possess the character 
of reality. Such a habit is the most fertile of all causes of 
"world-weariness" and disillusion: faults, or rather spiritual 
diseases, which the mystics never exhibit, but which few who 
are without all mystic feeling can hope to escape. Hence the 

1 So Ruysbroeck, " Freewill is the king of the soul, he inhabits the highest city ot 
that kingdom : that is to say, the desirous forces of the soul " (" L'Ornement des 
Noces Spirituelles," 1. i. cap. xxiv.). 

2 Meister Eckhart. Quoted in Martensen's monograph, p. 107. 



254 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

sharpened perceptions of the contemplatives have always seen 
poverty as a counsel of prudence, a higher form of common 
sense. It is not with St. Francis, or any other great mystic, 
a first principle, an end in itself. It was rather a logical de- 
duction from the first principle of their science — the paramount 
importance to the soul of a clear view of reality. 

Here East and West are in agreement : " Their science," 
says Al Ghazzali of the Sufis, who practised, like the early 
Franciscans, a complete renunciation of worldly goods, "has 
for its object the uprooting from the soul of all violent passions, 
the extirpation from it of vicious desires, and evil qualities ; 
so that the heart may become detached from all that is not 
God, and give itself for its only occupation meditation upon 
the Divine Being." x 

All those who have felt themselves urged towards the attain- 
ment of this transcendental vision, have found that possessions 
interrupt the view, are centres of conflicting interest in the 
mind. They assume a false air of importance, force them- 
selves upon the attention, and complicate life. Hence, in the 
interest of self-simplification, they must be cleared away : a 
removal which involves for the real enthusiast little more sacri- 
fice than the weekly visit of the dustman. " Having entirely 
surrendered my own free-will," says Al Ghazzali of his personal 
experience, " my heart no longer felt any distress in renouncing 
fame, wealth, or the society of my children." 2 

Others have contrived to reconcile self-surrender with a more 
moderate abandonment of outward things. Possessions take 
different rank for almost every human soul ; and the true rule 
of poverty consists in giving up those things which enchain 
the spirit, divide its interests, and deflect it on its road to the 
Absolute — whether these things be riches, habits, religious 
observances, friends, interests, distastes, or desires — not in mere 
outward destitution for its own sake. It is attitude, not act, 
that really matters ; self-denudation would not be necessary 
were it not for our ineradicable tendency to attribute false 
value to things the moment they become our own. " What is 
poverty of spirit but meekness of mind, by which a man knows 
his own infirmity ? " says Rolle, " seeing that to perfect stable- 

1 Schmolders, " Essai sur les Ecoles Philosophiques chez les Arabes," p. 54. 

2 Ibid., op. tit. ,p. 58. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 255 

ness he may not come but by the grace of God, all thing that 
him might let from that grace he forsakes, and only in joy ot 
his Maker he sets his desire. And as of one root spring many 
branches, so of wilful poverty on this wise taken proceed virtues 
and marvels untrowed. Not as some that change their clothes 
and not their souls ; riches soothly it seems these forsake, and 
vices innumerable they cease not to gather. ... If thou truly 
all thing for God forsake, see more what thou despiseth than what 
thou for sake thy l 

From such passages as this it follows that the Poverty ot 
the mystics is a mental rather than a material state. Detach- 
ment is the inner reality, of which Franciscan poverty is a 
sacrament to the world. It is the poor in spirit, not the poor 
in substance, who are to be spiritually blessed. " Let all things 
be forsaken of me," says Gerlac Petersen, " so that being poor 
I may be able in great inward spaciousness, and without any 
hurt, to suffer want of all those things which the mind of man 
can desire; out of or excepting God Himself." 2 

" I am not speaking here of the absence of things," says 
St. John of the Cross, " for absence is not detachment if 
the desire remains — but of that detachment which consists 
in suppressing desire and avoiding pleasure. It is this that 
sets the soul free, even though possession may be still 
retained." 3 

Every person in whom the mystical instinct awakes soon 
discovers in himself certain tastes or qualities which interrupt 
the development of that instinct. Often these tastes and 
qualities are legitimate enough upon their own plane ; but 
they are a drain upon the energy of the self, preventing 
her from attaining that intenser life for which she was made 
and which demands all her interest and energy. They distract 
her attention, they fill the field of perception : making of the 
surface-consciousness so active a thing that it can hardly be 
put to sleep. " Where can he have that pure and naked vision 
of unchangeable Truth whereby he see into all things," says 
Petersen again, " who is so busied in other things, not perhaps 
ivil, which operate . . . upon his thoughts and imagination and 

1 Richard Rolle, " The Mending of Life," cap. iii. 

2 u Ignitum cum Deo Soliloquium," cap. i. 

3 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. i. cap. 



256 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

confuse and enchain his mind . . . that his sight of that unique 
One in Whom all things are is over-clouded ?" J 

Now the nature of these distracting factors which " confuse 
and enchain the mind " will vary with almost every individual. 
It is impossible to predict in any one case what the things will 
be which the self must give up in order that the transcendental 
consciousness may grow. " Does it make any difference whether 
a bird be held by a slender thread or by a rope, while the bird 
is bound and cannot fly until the cord that holds it is broken ? 
It is true that a slender thread is more easily broken ; still 
notwithstanding, if it is not broken the bird cannot fly. This 
is the state of a soul with particular attachments : it never can 
attain to the liberty of the divine union, whatever virtues it 
may possess. Desires and attachments affect the soul as the 
remora is said to affect a ship ; that is but a little fish, yet when 
it clings to the vessel it effectually hinders its progress." 2 

" One man's meat is another man's poison," is a statement 
that is peculiarly true in regard to questions of detachment. 
Here each adventurer must — and does — judge for himself; 
extirpating all those interests which nourish selfhood, however 
innocent or even useful they may seem in the eyes of the 
world. The only rule is the remorseless abandonment of 
everything which is in the way. "When any man God per- 
fectly desires to love, all things as well inward as outward 
that to God's love are contrary and from His love do let, he 
studies to do away." 3 This may mean the utter self-stripping 
of St. Francis of Assisi, who cast off his actual clothing in his 
relentless determination to have nothing of his own :4 or the 
scarcely less drastic proceedings of Antoinette Bourignan, 
who found that a penny was enough to keep her from God. 

" Being one night in a most profound Penitence," says 
the biographer of this extraordinary woman, " she said 
from the bottom of her Heart, ' O my Lord ! what must 
I do to please Thee? For I have nobody to teach me. 
Speak to my soul and it will hear Thee.'" At that instant 
she heard, as if another had spoken within her, " Forsake all 

1 Gerlac Petersen, op. cit. , cap. xi. 

a St. John of the Cross, op. cit., 1. i. cap. xi. 

3 Richard Rolle, " The Fire of Love," bk. i. cap. xix. 

4 Thomas of Celano, Legenda Prima, cap. vi. 



THE PUEIFICATION OF THE SELF 257 

earthly things. Separate thyself from the love of the 
creatures. Deny thyself." From this time the more she 
entered into herself the more she was inclined to abandon 
all. But she had not the courage necessary for the com- 
plete renunciation towards which her transcendental conscious- 
ness was pressing her. She struggled to adjust herself to the 
inner and the outer life, but without success. For such a 
character as hers, compromise was impossible. "She asked 
always earnestly, When shall I be perfectly thine, O my God ? 
and she thought He still answered her, When thou shalt no 
longer possess anything, and shalt die to thyself. And where 
shall I do that, Lord ? He answered, In the Desert? At last 
the discord between her deeper and her superficial self became 
intolerable. Reinforced by the miseries of an unsympathetic 
home, still more by a threat of approaching marriage, the in- 
exorable inner powers got their way. She submitted ; and 
having disguised herself in a hermit's dress — she was only 
eighteen and had no one to help or advise her — " she went 
out of her chamber about Four in the Morning, taking nothing 
but one Penny to buy Bread for that Day ; and it being said 
to her in the going out, Where is thy Faith ? In a Penny ? she 
threw it away. . . . Thus she went away wholly delivered from 
the heavy burthen of the Cares and Good Things of this World." 1 
An admirable example of the mystic's attitude towards the 
soul-destroying division of interests, the natural but hopeless 
human struggle to make the best of both worlds, which sucks 
at its transcendental vitality, occurs in St. Teresa's purga- 
tive period. In her case this state of purification, the war 
between the real and the superficial self, extended over a long 
term of years. It ran side by side with the state of Illumina- 
tion, co-existing with a fully developed contemplative life ; and 
was only brought to an end by that " Second Conversion " 
which at last unified her scattered interests and set her firmly 
and for ever on the Unitive Way. The almost virile strength 
of Teresa's character, which afterwards contributed to the great- 
ness of her achievement in the unitive state, opposed itself to 
the invading transcendental consciousness ; disputed every inch 
of territory, resisted every demand made upon it by the grow- 
ing spiritual self. Bit by bit it was conquered, the sphere of 

1 " An Apology for Mrs. Antoinette Bourignan," pp. 269-70. 



258 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

her deeper life enlarged ; until the moment came in which she 
surrendered, once for all, to her true destiny. 1 

During the years of inward stress, of penance and growing 
knowledge of the Infinite which she spent in the Convent of the 
Incarnation, and which accompanied this slow remaking of 
character, Teresa's only self-indulgence — as it seems, a suffi- 
ciently innocent one — was talking to the friends who came 
down from Avila to the convent-parlour, and spoke to her 
through the grille. Her confessors, unaccustomed to the educa- 
tion of mystical genius, saw nothing incompatible between this 
practice and the pursuit of a high contemplative life. But as 
her transcendental consciousness, her states of orison grew 
stronger, Teresa felt more and more the distracting influence of 
these glimpses of the outer world. They were a drain upon the 
energy which ought to be wholly given to that new, deep, more 
real life which she felt stirring within her, and which could only 
hope to achieve its mighty destiny by complete concentration 
upon the business in hand. No genius can afford to dissipate 
his energies : the mystic genius least of all. Teresa knew that 
so long as she retained these personal satisfactions, her life had 
more than one focus ; she was not whole-hearted in her sur- 
render to the Absolute. But though her inward voices, her 
deepest instincts, urged her to give them up, for years she felt 
herself incapable of such a sacrifice. It was round the question 
of their retention or surrender that the decisive battle of her life 
was fought. 

" The devil," says her great Augustinian eulogist, Fray Luis 
de Leon, in his vivid account of these long interior struggles, " put 
before her those persons most sympathetic by nature ; and God 
came, and in the midst of the conversation discovered Himself 
aggrieved and sorrowful. The devil delighted in the conversa- 
tion and pastime, but when she turned her back on them and 
betook herself to prayer, God redoubled the delight and favours, 
as if to show her how false was the lure which charmed her at 
the grating, and that His sweetness was the veritable sweetness. 
... So that these two inclinations warred with each other in 

1 St. Teresa's mystic states are particularly difficult to classify. From one point 
of view these struggles might be regarded as the preliminaries of conversion. She 
was, however, proficient in contemplation when they occurred, and I therefore think 
that my arrangement is the right one. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 259 

the breast of this blessed woman, and the authors who inspired 
them each did his utmost to inflame her most, and the oratory 
blotted out what the grating wrote, and at times the grating 
vanquished and diminished the good fruit produced by prayer, 
causing agony and grief which disquieted and perplexed her 
soul : for though she was resolved to belong entirely to God, 
she knew not how to shake herself free from the world : and at 
times she persuaded herself that she could enjoy both, which 
ended mostly, as she says, in complete enjoyment of neither. 
For the amusements of the locutorio were embittered and 
turned into wormwood by the memory of the secret and sweet 
intimacy with God ; and in the same way when she retired to 
be with God, and commenced to speak with Him, the affections 
and thoughts which she carried with her from the grating took 
possession of her." x 

Compare with these violent oscillations between the super- 
ficial and mystical consciousness — characteristic of Teresa's 
strong volitional nature, which only came to rest after psychic 
convulsions which left no corner of its being unexplored — the 
symbolic act of renunciation under which Antoinette Bourignan's 
"interior self" vanquished the surface intelligence and asserted 
its supremacy. Teresa must give up her passionate interest in 
human life. Antoinette, never much tempted in that direction, 
must give up her last penny. What society was to Teresa's 
generous, energetic nature, prudence was to the temperamentally 
shrewd and narrow Antoinette : a distraction, a check on the 
development of the all-demanding transcendental genius, an 
unconquered relic of the " lower life." 

Many a mystic, however, has found the perfection of detach- 
ment to be consistent with a far less drastic renunciation of 
external things than that which these women felt to be essential 
to their peace. The test, as we have seen, does not lie in the 
nature of the things which are retained, but in the reaction which 
they stimulate in the self. " Absolute poverty is thine," says 
Tauler, " when thou canst not remember whether anybody has 
ever owed thee or been indebted to thee for anything ; just as 
all things will be forgotten by thee in the last journey of 
death." 2 Poverty, in this sense, may be consistent with the 

1 Quoted by G. Cunninghame Graham, ■* Santa Teresa," vol. i. p. 139. 
3 Sermon on St. Paul (" The Inner Way," p. 113). 



260 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

habitual and automatic use of luxuries which the abstracted 
self never even perceives. Thus we are told that St. Bernard 
was reproached by his enemies with the inconsistency of preach- 
ing evangelical poverty whilst making his journeys from place 
to place on a magnificently caparisoned mule, which had been 
lent to him by the Cluniac monks. He expressed great contri- 
tion : but said that he had never noticed what it was that he 
rode upon. 1 

Sometimes, the very activity which one self has rejected as 
an impediment becomes for another the channel of spiritual 
perception. I have mentioned the case of the Cure d'Ars, who, 
among other inhibitions, refused to allow himself to smell a rose. 
Sharply opposed to this is the case of St. Francis, who preached 
to the flowers, 2 and ordered a plot to be set aside for their 
cultivation when the convent garden was made, " in order that 
all who saw them might remember the Eternal Sweetness." 3 
So, too, we are told of his spiritual daughter, St. Douceline, that 
" out of doors one day with her sisters, she heard a bird's note. 
' What a lovely song ! ' she said : and the song drew her straight- 
way to God. Did they bring her a flower, its beauty had a like 
effect? 4 Here we are reminded of Plato. " The true order of 
going is to use the beauties of Earth as steps along which one 
mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty." This, too, 
is the true order of Holy Poverty : the selfless use, not the 
selfish abuse of lovely and natural things. 

To say that so difficult a counsel of perfection should some- 
times have been practised in excess, is but to say that asceticism 
is a human, not an inhuman art. Such excesses, however, 
are found most often amongst those saintly types who have not 
exhibited true mystic intuition. This intuition, entailing as it 
does communion with intensest Life, gives to its possessors a 
sweet sanity, a delicate balance, which guards them, as a rule, 
from such conceptions of chastity as that of the youthful saint 
who shut himself in a cupboard for fear he should see his 
mother pass by : from obedience of the type which identifies 
the voice of the director with the voice of God ; from detach- 

x Cotter Morison, " Life and Times of St. Bernard," p. 68. 

9 Thomas of Celano, Legenda Prima, cap. xxix. 

3 Ibid., Legenda Secunda, cap. cxxiv. 

* Anne Macdonell, " St. Douceline," p. 30. 




THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 261 

ment such as that exhibited by the Blessed Angela of Foligno, 
who, though a true mystic, viewed with murderous delight the 
deaths of relatives who were " impediments." * The detach- 
ment of the mystic is just a restoration to the liberty, in which 
the soul was made : it is a state of joyous humility in which he 
cries, " Nought I am, nought I have, nought I lack." To have 
arrived at this is to have escaped from external illusion : to be 
initiated into the purer air of that universe which knows but 
one rule of action — that which was laid down once for all by St. 
Augustine when he said, in the most memorable and misquoted 
of epigrams : " Love, and do what you like." 

2. Mortification 

By mortification, I have said, is to be understood the positive 
aspect of purification : the remaking in relation to reality of 
the permanent elements of character. These elements, so far, 
have subserved the interests of the old self, worked for it in the 
world of sense. Now they must be adjusted to the needs of the 
new self and to the transcendent world in which it moves. Their 
focal point is the old self, the lower centre of consciousness ; 
and the object of mortification is to kill that old self, remove 
that lower centre, in order that the higher centre, the " new 
man," may live and breathe. As St. Teresa discovered when 
she tried to reconcile the claims of friendship and contempla- 
tion, one or other must go : a house divided against itself 
cannot stand. "Who hinders thee more," says Thomas a 
Kempis, "than the unmodified affections of thy own heart? 
... if we were perfectly dead unto ourselves and not entangled 
within our own breasts, then should we be able to taste Divine 
things, and to have some experience of heavenly contempla- 
tion." 2 

In psychological language, the process of mortification is the 
process of setting up " new paths of neural discharge." That is 

1 " In that time and by God's will there died my mother, who was a great 
hindrance unto me in following the way of God : my husband died likewise, and in a 
short time there also died all my children. And because I had commenced to follow 
the aforesaid Way, and had prayed God that He would rid me of them, I had great 
consolation of their deaths, albeit I did also feel some grief" (Beatae Angelae de 
Fulginio, " Visionum et Instructionum Liber," cap. ix., English translation, p. 5). 

2 "De Imitatione Christi," 1. i. caps. iii. and xi. 



262 AN INTKODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

to say, the mystic life has got to express itself in action : and 
for this new paths must be cut and new habits formed — all, in 
spite of the new self s enthusiasm, " against the grain." The 
energy which wells up incessantly in every living being must 
abandon the old road of least resistance and discharge itself in 
a new and more difficult way. The old paths, left to them- 
selves, must fade and at last die. When they are dead, and the 
new life has triumphed, Mortification is at an end. The mystics 
always know when this moment comes. An inner voice then 
warns them to lay their active penances aside. 

Since the greater and stronger the mystic, the stronger and 
more stubborn his character tends to be, this change of life and 
turning of energy from the old and easy channels to the new 
is often a stormy matter. It is a period of actual battle 
between the inharmonious elements of the self, its lower and 
higher springs of action : of toil, fatigue, bitter suffering, and 
many disappointments. Nevertheless, in spite of its etymo- 
logical associations, the object of mortification is not death but 
life: the production of health and strength, the health and 
strength of the human consciousness viewed sub specie aeter- 
nitatis. "In the truest death of all created things, the sweetest 
and most natural life is hidden." x 

" This dying," says Tauler again, " has many degrees, and so 
has this life. A man might die a thousand deaths in one day, 
and find at once a joyful life corresponding to each of them. This 
is as it must be : God cannot deny or refuse this to death. 
The stronger the death the more powerful and thorough is the 
corresponding life ; the more intimate the death, the more 
inward is the life. Each life brings strength, and strengthens 
to a harder death. When a man dies to a scornful word, bear- 
ing it in God's name, or to some inclination inward or outward, 
acting or not acting against his own will, be it in love or grief, in 
word or act, in going or staying ; or if he denies his desires of 
taste or sight, or makes no excuse when wrongfully accused ; or 
anything else whatever it may be to which he has not yet died, 
it is harder at first to one who is unaccustomed to it and un- 
modified than to him who is mortified. ... A great life makes 
reply to him who dies in earnest even in the least things, a life 
which strengthens him immediately to die a greater death ; a 

1 Tauler, Sermon on St. Paul (" The Inner Way," p. 114). 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 26)J 

death so long and strong, that it seems to him hereafter more 
joyful, good and pleasant to die than to live, for he finds life in 
death and light shining in darkness." x 

No more than detachment, then, is mortification an end in 
itself. It is a means to the production of a definite kind of 
efficiency, a definite kind of vitality : like its physical parallel, 
the exercises of the gymnasium. Once this efficiency, this 
vitality, is produced, this training accomplished, mortification 
ends : often with startling abruptness. After a martyrdom 
which lasted sixteen years, says Suso — speaking as usual in the 
third person — of his own experience, " On a certain Whitsun 
Day a heavenly messenger appeared to him, and ordered him in 
God's name to continue it no more. He at once ceased, and 
threw all the instruments of his sufferings [irons, nails, hair- 
shirt, &c] into a river." 2 From this time onward, austerities 
of this sort had no part in Suso's life. 

The unknown French ecstatic who wrote, and the English 
contemplative who translated, " The Mirror of Simple Souls," 3 
have between them described and explained in bold and 
accurate language the conditions under which the soul is 
enabled to abandon that " hard service of the virtues " which 
has absorbed it during the Purgative Way. The statement of 
the " French Book " is direct and uncompromising : well calcu- 
lated to startle timid piety. " Virtues, I take leave of you for 
evermore ! " exclaims the Soul. " Now shall my heart be more 
free and more in peace than it has been. Forsooth, I wot well 
your service is too travaillous. Some time I laid my heart in 
you without any dissevering: ye wjot well this. I was in all 
things to you obedient. O then I was your servant : but now I 
am delivered out of your thraldom." 

To this astounding utterance the English translator has 
added a singularly illuminating gloss. " I am stirred here," 
he says, " to say more of the matter, as thus : First when a soul 
gives her to perfection, she labours busily day and night to get 
virtues by counsel of reason, and strives with vices at every 
thought, at every word and deed that she perceives comes of 
them, and busily ensearches vices, them to destroy. Thus the 

1 Tauler, Second Sermon for Easter Day. (This is not included in either of the 
English collections.) 

2 Suso, Leben, cap. xvii. 3 B.M. Add. 37790. 



264 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

virtues be mistresses, and every virtue makes her to war with 
its contrary, the which be vices. Many sharp pains and bitter- 
ness of conscience feels the soul in this war. . . . But so long 
one may bite on the bitter bark of the nut, that at last he shall 
come to the sweet kernel : right so, shortly to understand, it 
fares by these souls that be come to peace. They have so long 
striven with vices and wrought by virtues that they be come to 
the nut's kernel, that is to say to the love of God, which is 
sweetness. And when the soul has deeply tasted this love . . . 
then the soul is wondrous light and gladsome. Then is she 
mistress and lady over the virtues, for she has them all within 
herself. . . . And then this soul takes leave of virtues, as of the 
thraldom and painful travail of them that she had before. And 
now she is lady and sovereign and they be subjects." 
Jacopone da Todi speaks to the same effect : — 

" La guerra e terminata 
de le virtu battaglia 
de la mente travaglia 
cosa nulla contende." x 

So too in the case of St. Catherine of Genoa, after a penitential 
period of four years, during which she was haunted by a con- 
stant sense of sin, and occupied by incessant mortifications, " all 
thought of such mortifications was in an instant taken from 
her mind : in such a manner that, had she even wished to 
continue such mortifications, she would have been unable 
to do so . . . the sight of her sins was now taken from her 
mind, so that henceforth she did not catch a glimpse of them : 
it was as though they had all been cast into the depths of the 
sea." 2 In other words, the new and higher centre of conscious- 
ness, finally established, asserted itself and annihilated the old. 
" La guerra e terminata," all the energy of a strong nature flows 
freely in the new channels, and mortification ceases, mechanically, 
to be possible to the now unified or " regenerated " self. 

Mortification takes its name from the reiterated statement of 
all ascetic writers that the senses, or body of desire, with the 
cravings which are excited by different aspects of the pheno- 

1 " The war is at an end : in the battle of virtues, in travail of mind, there is no 
more striving" (Lauda xci.). 

2 Vita e Dottrina, cap. v. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 265 

menal world, must be mortified or killed ; which is, of 
course, but the statement of psychological necessities from 
another point of view. All those self-regarding instincts — so 
ingrained that they have become automatic — which impel the 
self to choose the more comfortable part, are seen by the 
awakened intuition of the embryo mystic as gross infringements 
of the law of love. " This then must be the travail and labour 
of a man, to draw his heart and mind from the fleshly love and 
liking of all earthly creatures, from vain thoughts and from 
fleshly imaginations and from the love and vicious feeling of 
himself, so that the soul shall or may find or take no rest in any 
fleshly thoughts or worldly affections." l The rule of Poverty 
must be applied to all the circumstances of normal conscious- 
ness as well as to the tastes and possessions of the self. Under 
this tonic influence real life will thrive, unreal life will wither 
and die. 

This mortifying process is rendered necessary, not because 1 
the legitimate exercise of the senses is opposed to Divine Reality, 
but because those senses have usurped a place beyond their 
station ; become the focus of energy, steadily drained the 
vitality of the self. " The dogs have taken the children's meat." 
The senses have grown stronger than their masters, monopolized 
the field of perception, dominated an organism which was made 
for greater activities, and built up those barriers of individuality 
which must one and all be done away before the subject can 
fulfil its destiny and pass over into the boundless life of the 
One. It is thanks to this wrong distribution of energy, this sedu- 
lous feeding of the cuckoo in the nest, that " in order to approach 
the Absolute, mystics must withdraw from everything, even 
themselves." 2 " It is therefore supreme ignorance for any one to 
think that he can ever attain to the high estate of union with 
God before he casts away from him the desire of natural things," 
says St. John of the Cross,3 " and of supernatural also so far as 
it concerns self-love, because the distance between them and 
that which takes place in the state of pure transformation 
in God is the very greatest." Again, " until the desires be 
lulled to sleep by the mortification of sensuality, and sensuality 

1 Walter Hilton, "The Scale of Perfection," bk. i. pt. iii. cap. 
a Recejac, M Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 78. 
3 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. i. cap. v. 



266 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

itself be mortified in them, so that it shall be contrary to the 
spirit no more, the soul cannot go forth in perfect liberty to the 
fruition of the union with the Beloved." x 

The death of selfhood in its narrow obvious sense is, then, 
the primary object of mortification. All the twisted elements of 
character which minister to the existence of this unreal yet 
complex creature are to be pruned away. Then as with the 
trees of the forest, so with the spirit of man, strong new 
branches will spring into being, grow towards air and light. 
" I live, yet not I " is to be the confession of the mystic who 
has endured this " bodily death." The self-that-is-to-be will 
live upon a plane where her own prejudices and preferences are 
so uninteresting as to be imperceptible. She must be weaned 
from these nursery toys : and weaning is a disagreeable process. 
The mystic, however, undertakes it as a rule without reluctance: 
pushed by his vivid consciousness of imperfection, his intuition 
of a more perfect state necessary to the fulfilment of his love. 
Often his entrance upon the torments of the Purgative Way, his 
taking up of the spiritual or material instruments of mortifica- 
tion, resembles in ardour and abruptness that " heroic plunge 
into Purgatory " of the newly dead when it perceives itself in 
the light of Love Divine, which is described in the Treatise of 
St. Catherine of Genoa as its nearest equivalent. " As she, 
plunged in the divine furnace of purifying love, was united to 
the Object of her love, and satisfied with all he wrought in her, 
so she understood it to be with the souls in Purgatory." 2 

This " divine furnace of purifying love " demands from 
the ardent soul, not only a complete self-surrender and 
voluntary turning from all impurity, a humility of the most 
far-reaching kind : but also a deliberate active suffering, a self- 
discipline in dreadful tasks. As gold in the refiner's fire, so 
''burning of love into a soul truly taken all vices purgeth." 
Where detachment may be a counsel of prudence, a practical 
result of seeing the true values of things, the pain of mortification 
is seized as a splendid opportunity, a love token, timidly offered 
by the awakened spirit to that all-demanding Lover from 
Whom St. Catherine of Siena heard the terrible words " I, Fire, 
the Acceptor of sacrifices, ravishing away from them their 

1 Op. cit.y bk. i. cap. xv. 

a S. Caterina di Genova, '■' Trattato di Purgatorio," cap. i. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 2G7 

darkness, give the light." ' " Suffering is the ancient law of 
love," says the Eternal Wisdom to Suso, " there is no quest 
without pain, there is no lover who is not also a martyr. 
Hence it is inevitable that he who would love so high a thing 
as Wisdom should sometimes suffer hindrances and griefs." 2 

The mystics have a profound conviction that Creation, 
Becoming, Transcendence, is a painful process at the best. 
Those amongst them who are Christians point to the Passion 
of Christ as a proof that the cosmic journey to perfection, the 
path of the Eternal Wisdom, follows of necessity the Way of 
the Cross. That old dreadful law of the inner life, which 
sounds so fantastic and yet is so bitterly true — " No progress 
without pain " — asserts itself. It declares that birth pangs 
must be endured in the spiritual as well as in the material 
world : that adequate training must always hurt the athlete. 
Hence it is that the mystics' quest of the Absolute drives them 
to an eager and heroic union with the reality of suffering, as 
well as with the reality of joy.3 

This divine necessity of pain, this necessary sharing in the 
travail of a World of Becoming, is beautifully described by Tauler 
in one of those " internal conversations " between the contem- 
plative soul and its God, which abound in the works of the 
mystics and are familiar to all readers of " The Imitation of 
Christ." " A man once thought," says Tauler, " that God drew 
some men even by pleasant paths, while others were drawn by 
the path of pain. Our Lord answered him thus, * What think 
ye can be pleasanter or nobler than to be made most like unto 
Me? that is by suffering. Mark, to whom was ever offered 
such a troubled life as to Me ? And in whom can I better work 
in accordance with My true nobility than in those who are most 

1 Dialogo, cap. lxxxv. 2 Leben, cap. iv. 

3 "This truth, of which she was the living example," says Huysmans of St. 
Lydwine, " has been and will be true for every period. Since the death of Lydwine, 
there is not a saint who has not confirmed it. Hear them formulate their desires. 
Always to suffer, and to die ! cries St. Teresa ; always to suffer, yet not to die, 
corrects St. Magdalena dei Pazzi ; yet more, oh Lord, yet more ! exclaims St. Francis 
Xavier, dying in anguish on the coast of China ; I wish to be broken with suffering in 
order that I may prove my love to God, declares a seventeenth century Carmelite, the 
Ven. Mary of the Trinity. The desire for suffering is itself an agony, adds a great 
servant of God of our own day, Mother Mary Du Bourg ; and she confided to her 
daughters in religion that ' if they sold pain in the market she would hurry to buy 
it there ' " (J. K. Huysmans, " Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam," 3rd edition, p. 225). 



268 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

like Me? They are the men who suffer. . . . Learn that My 
divine nature never worked so nobly in human nature as by 
suffering ; and because suffering is so efficacious, it is sent out 
of great love. I understand the weakness of human nature at 
all times, and out of love and righteousness I lay no heavier load 
on man than he can bear. The crown must be firmly pressed 
down that is to bud and blossom in the Eternal Presence of My 
Heavenly Father. He who desires to be wholly immersed in 
the fathomless sea of My Godhead must also be deeply im- 
mersed in the deep sea of bitter sorrow. I am exalted far 
above all things, and work supernatural and wonderful works 
in Myself : the deeper and more supernaturally a man crushes 
himself beneath all things, the more supernaturally will he be 
drawn far above all things.' " x 

Pain, therefore, the mystics often court : sometimes in the 
crudely physical form which Suso describes so vividly and 
horribly in the sixteenth chapter of his Life, more frequently 
in those refinements of torture which a sensitive spirit can 
extract from loneliness, injustice, misunderstanding — above 
all, from deliberate contact with the repulsive accidents 
of life. 

It would seem from a collation of the evidence that the 
typical mystical temperament is by nature a highly fastidious 
one. Its passionate apprehension of spiritual beauty, its 
intuitive perception of divine harmony, is counterbalanced 
by an instinctive loathing of ugliness, a shrinking from the 
disharmonies of squalor and disease. Often its ideal of re- 
finement is far beyond the contemporary standards of decency : 
a circumstance which is alone enough to provide ample oppor- 
tunity of wretchedness. This extreme sensitiveness, which 
appears to form part of the normal psycho-physical make-up 
of the mystic, as it often does of the equally highly-strung 
artistic type, is one of the first things to be seized upon by 
the awakened self as a disciplinary instrument. Then humi- 
lity's axiom, " Naught is too low for love " is forced to bear the 
less lovely gloss, " Naught must be too disgusting." 

Two reasons at once appear for this. One is the innate 
contempt for phenomena, nasty as well as nice — the longing to 
be free from all the fetters of sense — which goes with the 

1 Tauler, Sermon on St. Paul ("The Inner Way," p. 114). 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 269 

passion for invisible things. Those to whom the attractions 
of earth are only illusion, are inconsistent if they attribute a 
greater reality to the revolting and squalid incidents of life. 
St. Francis did but carry his own principles to their logical 
conclusion, when he insisted that the vermin were as much his 
brothers as the birds. Real detachment means the death of 
preferences of all kinds : even of those which seem to other 
men the very proofs of virtue and fine taste. 

The second reason is a nobler one. It is bound up with 
that principle of self-surrender which is the mainspring of the 
mystic life. To the contemplative mind, which is keenly 
conscious of unity in multiplicity — of God in the world — all 
disinterested service is service of the Absolute which he loves : 
and the harder it is, the more opposed to his self-regarding 
and aesthetic instincts, the more nearly it approaches his ideal. 
The point to which he aspires — though he does not always 
know it — is that in which all disharmony, all appearance of 
vileness, is resolved in the concrete reality which he calls the 
Love of God. Then, he feels dimly, everything will be seen 
under the aspect of a cosmic and charitable beauty ; exhibiting 
through the woof of corruption the web of eternal life. 

It is told of St. Francis of Assisi, in whom the love of 
lovely things was always paramount, how he forced himself 
to visit the lepers whose sight and smell disgusted him : how 
he served them and even kissed them. 1 " Then as he departed, 
in very truth that which had aforetime been bitter unto him, to 
wit, the sight and touch of lepers, now changed into sweet- 
ness. For, as he confessed, the sight of lepers had been so 
grievous unto him that he had been minded to avoid not only 
seeing them, but even going nigh their dwelling. And if at any 
time he chanced to pass their abodes, or to see them, albeit he 
were moved by compassion to do them an alms through another 
person, yet alway would he turn aside his face, stopping his 
nostrils with his hand. But through the grace of God he 
became so intimate a friend of the lepers that, even as he 
recorded in his will, he did sojourn with them and did humbly 
serve them." 

Also, after his great renunciation of all property, he, once a 
prosperous young man who had been "dainty in his father's 

x Thomas of Celano, Legenda Prima, cap. vii. ; 3 Soc. cap. iv. 



270 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

home," accustomed himself to take a bowl and beg scraps of 
food from door to door : and here too, as in the case of the 
lepers, that which at first seemed revolting became to him 
sweet. "And when he would have eaten that medley of 
various meats," says the legend, " at first he shrank back, for 
that he had never been used willingly even to see, much less 
to eat, such scraps. At length, conquering himself, he began 
to eat ; and it seemed to him that in eating no rich syrup had 
he ever tasted aught so delightsome." » 

The object, then, of this self-discipline is, like the object of 
all purgation, freedom : freedom from the fetters of the senses, 
the " remora of desire," from the results of environment and 
worldly education, from pride and prejudice, preferences and 
distaste : from selfhood in every form. Its effect is a sharp 
reaction to the joy of self-conquest. The very act that had 
once caused in the enchained self a movement of loathing 
becomes not merely indifferent, but an occasion of happiness. 
So Margery Kempe " had great mourning and sorrowing if she 
might not kiss a leper when she met them in the way for the 
love of our Lord, which was all contrary to her disposition in the 
years of her youth and prosperity, for then she abhorred them 
most." 2 

I will spare the sensitive reader a detailed account of the 
loathsome ordeals by which St. Catherine of Genoa and 
Madame Guyon strove to cure themselves of squeamishness 3 
and acquire this liberty of spirit. They, like St. Francis, St. 
Elizabeth of Hungary, and countless other seekers for the Real, 
sought out and served with humility and love the sick and the 
unclean : associated themselves at all costs with life in its 
meanest forms : compelled themselves to contact with the most 
revolting substances : and tried to suppress the surface-con- 
sciousness by the traditional ascetic expedient of deliberately 
opposing all — even its most natural and harmless — inclinations. 
"In the first four years after she received the sweet wound from 
her Lord," says the Life of Catherine of Genoa, she " made great 

1 3 Soc. cap. vii. 

2 " A Short Treatise of Contemplation taken out of the boke of Margery Kempe 
ancresse of Lynne." London, 1521. This has been reprinted by Mr. E. Gardner 
in "The Cell of Self- Knowledge," 1910, p. 49. 

3 The curious are referred to the original authorities. For St. Catherine, 
chapter viii. of the Vita e Dottrina : for Madame Guyon, Vie, pt. i. ch. x. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 271 

penances : so that all her senses were mortified. And first, so 
soon as she perceived that her nature desired anything, at once 
she deprived it thereof, and did so that it should receive all 
those things that it abhorred. She wore harsh hair, ate no meat 
nor any other thing that she liked ; ate no fruit neither fresh nor 
dried . . . and she lived greatly submitted to all persons, and 
always sought to do all those things which were contrary to her 
own will ; in such a way that she was always inclined to do more 
promptly the will of others than her own." . . . "And while she 
worked such and so many mortifications of all her senses it was 
several times asked of her ' Why do you do this ? ' And she 
answered, ' I do not know, but I feel myself drawn inwardly to 
do this . . . and I think it is God's will.' " x 

St. Ignatius Loyola, in the world a highly bred Spanish 
gentleman of refined personal habits, found in those habits an 
excellent opportunity of mortification. " As he was somewhat 
nice about the arrangement of his hair, as was the fashion of 
those days and became him not ill, he allowed it to grow 
naturally, and neither combed it nor trimmed it nor wore any 
head covering by day or night. For the same reason he did not 
pare his finger or toe nails; for on these points he had been 
fastidious to an extreme." 2 

Madame Guyon, a delicate girl of the leisured class, ac- 
customed to the ordinary comforts of her station, seemed 
impelled to the most primitive and crude forms of mortification 
in her efforts towards the acquirement of " indifference." But, 
owing no doubt to the peculiar psychic constitution which after- 
wards showed itself in the forms of automatism and clairvoyance, 
her intense concentration upon the transcendental life produced 
a partial anaesthesia. " Although I had a very delicate body, 
the instruments of penitence tore my flesh without, as it seemed 
to me, causing pain. I wore girdles of hair and of sharp iron, 
I often held wormwood in my mouth." " If I walked, I put 
stones in my shoes. These things, my God, Thou didst first 
inspire me to do, in order that I might be deprived even of the 
most innocent satisfactions." 3 

The developing mystical consciousness made ever sharper 
and sharper war upon Madame Guyon's delicate and fastidious 

z Vita e Dottrina, cap. v. 2 Testament, cap, ii. (Rix's translation). 

3 Vie, pt. i. cap. x. 



272 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

surface-personality. The impulses from below the threshold, so 
utterly at variance with her own instincts, imposed themselves 
upon her with an authority which seemed to her to possess all 
the marks of divine commands. " Thou wert continually with 
me, Oh my God ! and Thou wert so severe a taskmaster that 
Thou wouldst not let me pass over the smallest things. When 
I thought of doing anything, Thou didst stop me abruptly and 
madest me to do without thinking all Thy desires, and all that 
was most repugnant to my senses, until they were become so 
docile that they had no longer either desire or distaste for 
anything. ... I did nothing of myself, but I let myself be led 
by my King, who ruled me absolutely in all things." * 

The procuring of this ascendancy of the " interior man," the 
transcendental consciousness, over the distracted and normal 
personality which deals with the manifold illusions of daily life, 
is, as we have seen, the main business of Purgation. It is, then, 
almost impossible that any mystic — whatever his religion, 
character or race — should escape its battles : for none at the 
beginning of their career are in a position to dispense with its 
good offices. Neoplatonists and Mahommedans, no less than 
the Christian ascetics, are acquainted with the Purgative Way. 
They all know the primal secret of the Spiritual Alchemists, 
that you must tame the Green Lion before you give him wings. 
Thus in 'Attar's allegory of the Valleys, the valley of self- 
stripping and renunciation comes first. 2 So too Al Ghazzali, the 
Persian contemplative of whom I have already spoken, says of 
the period immediately following his acceptance of the prin- 
ciples of Sufi-ism and consequent renunciation of property, " I 
went to Syria, where I remained more than two years, without 
any other object than that of living in seclusion and solitude, 
conquering my desires, struggling with my passions, striving to 
purify my soul, to perfect my character, and to prepare my 
heart to meditate upon God." At the end of this period of 
pure purgation circumstances forced him to return to the world, 
much to his regret, since he " had not yet attained to the perfect 
ecstatic state, unless it were in one or two isolated moments." 3 

Such sporadic gleams of ecstatic vision, distributed through 
the later stages of purification, seem to be normal features of 

1 Op. cit., loc. cit. f 2 Supra, p. 156. 

3 Schmolders, "Essai sur les Ecoles Philosophiques chez les Arabes," p. 59. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 273 

mystical development. Increasing control of the lower centres, 
of the surface intelligence and its scattered desires, permits the 
emergence of the transcendental perceptions. We have seen 
that Fox in his early stages displayed just such an alternation 
between the light and shade of the mystic way. 1 So too did 
that least ascetic of visionaries, Jacob Boehme. " Finding 
within myself a powerful contrarium, namely the desires that 
belong to the flesh and blood," he says, " I began to fight a 
hard battle against my corrupted nature, and with the aid of 
God I made up my mind to overcome the inherited evil will, to 
break it, and to enter wholly into the Love of God. . . . This, 
however, was not possible for me to accomplish, but I stood 
firmly by my earnest resolution, and fought a hard battle with 
myself. Now while I was wrestling and battling, being aided 
by God, a wonderful light arose within my soul. It was a light 
entirely foreign to my unruly nature, but in it I recognized the 
true nature of God and man, and the relation existing between 
them, a thing which heretofore I had never understood, and for 
which I would never have sought." 2 

In these words Boehme bridges the gap between Purgation 
and Illumination : showing these two states or ways as co- 
existing and complementary one to another ; forming the light 
and dark sides of a developing mystic consciousness. As a 
fact, they do often exist side by side in the individual ex- 
perience : 3 and any treatment which exhibits them as sharply 
and completely separated may be convenient for purposes of 
study, but becomes at best diagrammatic if considered as a 
representation of the mystic life. The mystical consciousness, 
as we have seen, belongs — from the psychological point of view 
— to that mobile or " unstable " type in which the artistic 
temperament also finds a place. It sways easily between the 
extremes of pleasure and pain in its gropings after transcen- 
dental reality. It often attains for a moment to heights 
in which it is not able to rest : is often flung from some 
rapturous vision of the Perfect to the deeps of contrition 
and despair. 

The mystics have a vivid metaphor by which to describe 

1 Supra, p. 215. 

a Hartmann, " Life and Doctrines of Jacob Boehme," p. 50. 

3 Compare the case of St. Teresa already cited, supra, p. 257. 



274 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

that alternation between the onset and the absence of the 
joyous transcendental consciousness which forms as it were the 
characteristic intermediate stage between the bitter struggles of 
pure Purgation, and the peace and splendour of the Illuminative 
Life. They call it Ludus Amoris, the " Game of Love " which 
God plays with the desirous soul. It is the " game of chess," 
says St. Teresa, "in which game Humility is the Queen without 
whom none can checkmate the Divine King." x " Here," says 
Martensen, " God plays a blest game with the soul." 2 The 
" Game of Love " belongs emphatically to that state of imper- 
fection, of struggle, oscillation and unrest which precedes the 
first unification of the self. Once this event has taken place, 
the new level of reality has been attained, it is known no more. 
Thus St. Catherine of Siena, that inspired psychologist, was 
told in ecstasy, " With the souls who have arrived at perfection, 
I play no more the Game of Love, which consists in leaving and 
returning again to the soul ; though thou must understand that 
it is not, properly speaking, I, the immovable GOD, Who thus 
elude them, but rather the sentiment that My charity gives 
them of Me." 3 In other terms, it is the imperfectly developed 
spiritual perception which becomes tired and fails, throwing 
the self back into the darkness and aridity whence it has 
emerged. 

So with Madame Guyon, periods of "dryness" — the orthodox 
name for such spiritual fatigue — recurred at intervals during the 
whole of the Illuminated Life. So we are told of Rulman 
Merswin4 that after the period of harsh physical mortification 
which succeeded his conversion came a year of " delirious joy 
alternating with the most bitter physical and moral sufferings." 
It is, he says, " the Game of Love which the Lord plays with 
His poor sinful creature." Memories of all his old sins still 
drove him to exaggerated penances : morbid temptations " made 
me so ill that I feared I should lose my reason." These psychic 
storms reacted upon the physical organism. He had a para- 
lytic seizure, lost the use of his lower limbs, and believed 
himself to be at the point of death. When he was at his 

1 " Camino de Perfection," cap. xvii. 
a Martensen, " Meister Eckhart," p. 75. 

3 Dialogo, cap. lxxviii. 

4 Jundt, " Rulman Merswin," pp. 19 and 20. 



THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF 275 

worst, however, and all hope seemed at an end, an inward 
voice told him to rise from his bed. He obeyed and found 
himself cured. Ecstasies were frequent during the whole of 
this period. In these moments of exaltation he felt his mind 
to be irradiated by a new light, so that he knew, intuitively, the 
direction which his life was bound to take, and recognized the 
inevitable and salutary nature of his trials. " God showed 
Himself by turns harsh and gentle : to each access of misery 
succeeded the rapture of supernatural grace." In this inter- 
mittent style, torn by these constant fluctuations, did Merswin, 
in whom the psychic instability of the artistic and mystic types 
is present in excess, pass through the purgative and illuminated 
states. They appear to have coexisted in his consciousness, 
first one and then the other emerging and taking control. 
Hence he did not attain the peaceful condition which is 
characteristic of full illumination and normally closes the 
" First Mystic Life." He passed direct from these violent 
alternations of mystical pleasure and mystical pain to the 
state which he calls "the school of suffering love." This, as 
we shall see when we come to its consideration, is strictly 
analogous to that which other mystics have called the " Dark 
Night of the Soul " and opens the " Second Mystic Life " or 
Unitive Way. 

Such prolonged coexistence of pain and pleasure states in 
the developing soul, such delay in the attainment of equi- 
librium, is not infrequent, and must be taken into account in 
all attempts towards analysis of the mystic type. Though it is 
convenient for the purposes of study to practise a certain dis- 
section, and treat as separate matters which are, in the living 
subject, hopelessly intertwined, we should constantly remind 
ourselves that such a proceeding is artificial. The struggle of 
the self to disentangle itself from illusion and attain the 
Absolute is a life-struggle. Hence, it will and must exhibit 
in every case something of the freedom and originality of life : 
will, as a process, obey artistic rather than scientific laws. It 
will sway now to the light and now to the shade of experience : 
its oscillations will sometimes be great, sometimes small. Mood 
and environment, inspiration and information, will all play their 
part. 

There are in this struggle three factors. 



276 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

(i) The unchanging light ot Eternal Reality: that Pure 
Being "which ever shines and nought shall ever dim." 

(2) The web of illusion, here thick, there thin, which hems 
in, confuses, and allures the sentient self. 

(3) That self, always changing, moving, struggling — always, 
in fact, becoming — alive in every fibre, related at once to the 
unreal and to the real. 

In the ever-shifting relations between these three factors, the 
consequent energy engendered, the work done, we may find a 
cause of the innumerable forms of stress and travail which are 
called in their objective form the Purgative Way. One only of 
the three is constant : the Absolute to which the soul aspires. 
Though all else may fluctuate, that goal is changeless. That 
Beauty so old and so new, " with whom is no variableness, 
neither shadow of turning," which is the One of Plotinus, the 
All of Eckhart and St. John of the Cross, the Eternal Wisdom 
of Suso, the Unplumbed Abyss of Ruysbroeck, the Pure Love 
of St. Catherine of Genoa — awaits yesterday, to-day, and for 
ever the opening of Its creature's eyes. 

In the moment of conversion those eyes were opened for an 
instant: obtained, as it were, a dazzling and unforgettable 
glimpse of the Uncreated Light. They must learn to stay 
open : to look steadfastly into the eyes of Love : so that, in the 
beautiful imagery of the mystics, the " faithful servant " may 
become the " secret friend." x Then it is, says Boehme, that " the 
divine glimpse and beam of joy ariseth in the soul, being a new 
eye, in which the dark, fiery soul conceiveth the Ens and 
Essence of the divine light." 2 So hard an art is not to be 
acquired abruptly. On the contrary, it is more in accordance 
with all that we know of the conditions of growth that its 
perfect development in the individual should be preceded by 
a partial acquirement ; by bewildering moments of lucidity, 
by splendid glimpses, whose brevity is due to the weakness 
of the new and still unpractised " eye which looks upon 
Eternity," the yet undisciplined strength of the "eye which 
looks upon Time." Of such a nature is that play of light and 
dark, of exaltation and contrition, which bridges the gap 

1 See Denis the Carthusian, " De Contemplatione," bk. iii. The metaphor is 
an ancient one and occurs in many mediaeval writers. 
a " The Epistles of Jacob Boehme," p. 19. 






THE PURIFICATION ON THE SELF 277 

between the Purgative and the Illuminative states. Each by 
turn takes the field and ousts the other ; for " these two eyes 
of the soul of man cannot both perform their work at once." * 

To use another and more domestic metaphor, that Divine 
Child which was, in the hour of the mystic conversion, born in 
the spark of the soul, must learn like other children to walk 
alone. Each effort to stand brings with it, first a glorious sense 
of growth and then a fall : each fall is but the occasion of 
another struggle towards obtaining the difficult balance which 
comes when infancy is past. There are many eager trials, 
many hopes, many disappointments. At last, as it seems 
suddenly, the moment comes : tottering is over, the muscles 
have learnt their lesson, they adjust themselves automatically, 
and the new self suddenly perceives itself — it knows not how — 
as standing upright and secure. That is the moment which 
marks the real boundary between the purgative and the 
illuminative states. 

The process of this passage of the " new " or spiritual man 
from his awakening to the illuminated life, has been set out by 
Jacob Boehme in language which is at once poetic and precise. 
" When Christ the Corner-Stone [i.e., the divine principle latent 
in man] stirreth himself in the extinguished Image of Man 
in his hearty Conversion and Repentance," he says, "then 
Virgin Sophia appeareth in the stirring of the Spirit of Christ 
in the extinguished Image, in her Virgin's attire before the 
Soul ; at which the Soul is so amazed and astonished in its 
Uncleanness that all its Sins immediately awake in it, and it 
trembleth before her ; for then the judgment passeth upon the 
Sins of the Soul, so that it even goeth back in its unworthiness, 
being ashamed in the Presence of its fair Love, and entereth 
into itself, feeling and acknowledging itself utterly unworthy to 
receive such a Jewel. This is understood by those who are of 
our tribe and have tasted of this heavenly Gift, and by none 
else. But the noble Sophia draweth near in the Essence of the 
Soul, and kisseth it in friendly Manner, and tinctureth its dark 
Fire with her Rays of Love, and shineth through it with her 
bright and powerful Influence. Penetrated with the strong 
Sense and Feeling of which, the Soul skippeth in its Body for 
great Joy, and in the strength of this Virgin Love exulteth, 

1 "Theologia Germanica," cap.Vii. 



278 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and praiseth the great God for his blest Gift of Grace. I will 
set down here a short description how it is when the Bride thus 
embraceth the Bridegroom, for the consideration of the Reader, 
who perhaps hath not yet been in this wedding chamber. It 
may be he will be desirous to follow us, and to enter into the 
Inner Choir, where the Soul joineth hands and danceth with 
Sophia, or the Divine Wisdom." 1 

1 Jacob Boehme, " The Way to Christ," pt. i. p. 23 (vol. iv. of the complete 
English translation of Boehme's works). 






CHAPTER IV 
THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 

Illumination, the characteristic mystical consciousness — Many artists attain to it — 
Part of the normal process of transcendence — Its nature — Plotinus — The "mystic 
dance" — Distinctive character of Illumination — "Nature mysticism" — Illumina- 
tion and the mysteries — Mystic and artist — The chalice of the Spirit of Life — Various 
forms and grades of illumination — It always seems final to the mystic — Must be 
expressed artistically — Often received in visionary form — Three marks of this state — 
(i) The sense of Divine Presence, (2) the lucid vision of the world, (3) automatic 
activity — Twofold character of the illuminated consciousness — Sense of the 
Presence of God — The source of mystic joy — St. Teresa — The orison of union — 
St. Bernard — Hugh of St. Victor — Distinction between orison of union and 
unitive life — The "sense of the Presence" and active life — Brother Lawrence — 
Passivity — Madame Guyon — St. Catherine of Genoa and illumination — Nature of 
illumination — An access of new light — Jacopone da Todi — Law — St. Augustine — 
The Vision of Reality — Dante — Angela of Foligno — Transcendent and Personal 
illumination — Suso — The illuminated vision of the world — its nature — Jacob Boehme 
— Fox — Blake — The mystics and animal life — St. Francis of Assisi — St. Rose of 
Lima — Platonism and illumination — Plotinus — The Kabalah — Law — Illumination a 
half-way house— It cannot give final satisfaction to the spiritual consciousness 

IN Illumination we come for the first time to the considera- 
tion of that state of consciousness which is popularly 
supposed to be peculiar to the mystic : a form of mental 
life, a kind of perception, which is radically different from that 
of " normal " men. His preceding adventures and experiences 
cannot be allowed this quality. His awakening to conscious- 
ness of the Absolute — though it be often accompanied by 
circumstances of splendour and intensity which seem to mark 
it off from other psychic upheavals of that kind — does but 
reproduce upon higher levels those characteristic processes of 
conversion and falling in love which give depth and actuality 
to the religious and passional life. The purification to which 
he then sets himself — though this does as a rule possess certain 
features which are confined to the phenomena of mystical 



280 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

development — is again closely related to the mortifications 
of ascetic, but not necessarily mystical, piety. It is the most 
exalted form with which we are acquainted of that process 
of selection and self-discipline — that pruning and training of 
the human plant — which is the essence of all education and 
a necessary stage in every kind of transcendence. Here, the 
mystic does but adopt in a more drastic shape the principles 
which all who would live with an intense life, all seekers after 
freedom, all true lovers must accept : though he may justly 
claim with Ophelia that these wear their rue with a difference. 

But in the mighty swing back into sunshine which is the 
reward of that painful descent into the " cell of self-knowledge," 
he parts company with these other pilgrims. Those who still 
go with him a little way — certain prophets, poets, artists, 
dreamers — do so in virtue of that mystical genius, that instinct 
for transcendental reality, which seers and creators so often 
possess. These people have a measure — sometimes a large 
measure — of illumination : they are the initiates of beauty 
or of wisdom, as the great mystic is the initiate of love. He 
has now obtained a veritable foothold in that transcendental 
world into which they too can penetrate now and again : has 
acquired the art of fellowship — not yet of union — with the 
"great life of the All," and thence draws strength and joy. 
Really and actually, as one whose noviciate is finished, he has 
"entered the Inner Choir, where the Soul joineth hands and 
danceth with Sophia, the Divine Wisdom " : and, keeping time 
with the great rhythms of the spiritual universe, feels that he 
has found his place. 

This change of consciousness, however abrupt and amazing 
it may seem to the self which experiences it, seems to the 
psychologist a normal incident of that organic process of 
development which was initiated by the first awakening of 
the transcendental sense. Responding to the intimations re- 
ceived in that awakening, ordering itself in their interest, con- 
centrating its scattered energies on this one thing, the self 
emerges from long and varied acts of purification to find that 
it has pushed through to another order of reality. It has 
risen to acute consciousness of a world that was always there, 
and wherein its substantial being — that Ground which is of 
God — has always stood. Such a consciousness is " Transcen- 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 281 

dental Feeling" in excelsis: a deep, intuitional knowledge of 
the "secret plan." 

As a chorus about its choragus, says Plotinus in a passage 
which strangely anticipates Boehme's metaphor, so do we all 
perpetually revolve about the Principle of all Things. But 
because our attention is diverted by looking at things foreign 
to the choir — all the foolish complexities of the world of 
appearance, the little diurnal incidents of that existence 
which we call life — we are not aware of this. Hence, instead 
of that free and conscious co-operation in the great life of the 
All which alone can make personal life worth living, we move 
like slaves or marionettes, and, oblivious of the whole to which 
our little steps contribute, fail to observe the measure " whereto 
the worlds keep time." Our minds being distracted from the 
Corypheus in the midst, the " energetic Word " who sets the 
rhythm, we do not behold Him. We are absorbed in the illu- 
sions of sense ; the " eye which looks on Eternity " is idle. 
" But when we do behold Him," says Plotinus, " then we obtain 
the end of our wishes, and rest. Then also we are no longer 
discordant, but form a truly divine dance about Him ; in the 
which dance the soul beholds the Fountain of life, the Fountain 
of intellect, the Principle of Being, the cause of good, the root 
of soul." x Such a beholding, such a lifting of consciousness 
from a self-centred to a God-centred world, is of the essence of 
illumination. 

It will be observed that in these passages the claim of the 
mystic is not yet to supreme communion, to that "flight of 
the Alone to the Alone " which is the Plotinian image for the 
utmost bliss of the emancipated soul. A vision, and a know- 
ledge, which is the result of conscious harmony with the 
divine World of Becoming, is the ideal held out: not self- 
mergence in the Principle of Life, but willing and harmonious 

1 Plotinus, Ennead vi. 9. Compare with this image of the rhythmic dance of 
things about a divine Corypheus in the midst, those strikingly parallel passages in the 
Apocryphal «« Hymn of Jesus " where the Logos or Christ, standing within the circle 
of disciples, says, " I am the Word who did play and dance all things." "Now answer 
to My dancing." " Understand by dancing what I do." Again, •« Who danceth not 
knoweth not what is being done." " I would pipe, dance ye all ! " and presently the 
rubric declares, " All whose Nature is to dance, doth dance!" (See Dr. M. R. 
James, "Apocrypha Anecdota," series 2; and G. R. S. Mead, "Echoes from the 
Gnosis: the Dance of Jesus." Compare supra, p. 159.) 



282 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

revolution about Him, that " in dancing we may know what fa 
done." This distinction holds good in almost every first-hand 
description of illumination which we possess : and it is this 
which marks it off from mystic union in all its forms. All 
pleasurable and exalted states of mystic consciousness in which 
the sense of I-hood persists, in which there is a loving and 
joyous relation between the Absolute as object and the self 
as subject, fall under the head of Illumination : which is really 
an enormous development of the intuitional life at high levels. 
All veritable and first-hand apprehensions of the Divine obtained 
by the use of symbols, as in the religious life; all phases of 
poetic inspiration, "glimpses of truth," are activities of the 
illuminated mind. 

To " see God in nature," to attain a radiant consciousness of 
the "otherness "of natural things, is the simplest and commonest 
form of illumination. Most people, under the spell of emotion 
or of beauty, have known flashes of rudimentary vision of this 
kind. Where such a consciousness is permanent, as it is in 
many poets, 1 there results that partial yet often overpowering 
apprehension of the Infinite Life immanent in all living things 
which some modern writers have dignified by the name of 
" nature-mysticism." Where it is raised to its highest denomi- 
nation, till the veil is obliterated by the light behind, and 
" faith has vanished into sight," we obtain such a case as that 
of Blake, in which the mystic swallows up the poet. 

"Dear Sir," says that great genius in one of his most character- 
istic letters, written immediately after an onset of the illuminated 
vision which he had lost for many years, " excuse my enthusiasm, 
or rather madness, for I am really drunk with intellectual vision 
whenever I take a pencil or graver into my hand." 2 Many a 
great painter, philosopher, or poet, perhaps every inspired 
musician, has known this indescribable inebriation of Reality 
in those moments of transcendence in which his masterpieces 
were conceived. This is the " saving madness " of which Plato 
speaks in the "Phaedrus"; the ecstasy of the " God-intoxicated 
man," the lover, the prophet, and the poet "drunk with life." 
When the Christian mystic, eager for his birthright, says 
" Sanguis Christi, inebria me ! " he is asking for just such a 

1 For instance, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning, Whitman. 
a " Letters of William Blake," p. 171. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 283 

gift of supernal vitality, a draught of that Wine of Absolute 
Life which runs in the arteries of the world. Those to whom 
that cup is given attain to an intenser degree of vitality, hence 
to a more acute degree of perception, a more vivid conscious- 
ness, than that which is enjoyed by other men. It is the 
prize of which purgation is the price, the passing " from death 
unto life." 

Blake conceived that it was his vocation to bring this 
mystical illumination, this vision of reality, within the purview 
of ordinary men: to "cleanse the doors of perception" of the 
race. They thought him a madman for his pains. 

"... I rest not irom my great task 
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes 
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity 
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination. 
O Saviour, pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness and love, 
Annihilate the Selfhood in me : be thou all my life." * 

The Mysteries of the antique world were, one and all, 
attempts — often by the wrong road of a merely magical 
initiation — to " open the immortal eyes of man inwards " : exalt 
his powers of perception until they could receive the messages 
of a higher degree of reality. In spite of much eager theorizing, 
it is impossible for us to tell how far they succeeded in this 
task. In the case of those who had a natural genius for the 
Infinite, symbols and rituals which were doubtless charged 
with ecstatic suggestions, and which often dramatized the 
actual course of the Mystic Way, may well have brought about 
some change pi consciousness : 2 though hardly that complete 
rearrangement of character which is an essential part of the 
mystic's entrance on the true Illuminated State. Hence Plato 
only claims that " he whose initiation is recent " can see 
Immortal Beauty under mortal veils 

" O blessed he in all wise, 

Who hath drunk the Living Fountain, 



* "Jerusalem," cap. i. 

" Compare J. E. Harrison, " Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion," 
caps, ix., x., and xi.; a work which puts the most favourable construction possible on 
the meaning of Orphic initiation. 



284 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Whose life no folly staineth 
And whose soul is near to God : 
Whose sins are lifted pall-wise 
As he worships on the Mountain." * 

Thus sang the initiates of Dionysus ; that mystery-cult in which 
the Greeks seem to have expressed all that they knew of the 
possible movement of consciousness through rites of purifi- 
cation to the ecstasies of the Illuminated Life. The mere crude 
rapture of illumination has seldom been more vividly expressed. 
With its half-Oriental fervours, its self-regarding glory in 
personal purification achieved, and the soiritual superiority 
conferred by adeptship, may be compared the deeper and 
lovelier experience of the Catholic poet and saint, who repre- 
sents the spirit of Western mysticism at its best. His sins, 
too, had been " lifted pall-wise " as a cloud melts in the sunshine 
of Divine Love : but here the centre of interest is not the little 
self which has been exalted, but the greater Self which deigns 
thus to exalt. 

" O burn that burns to heal ! 

O more than pleasant wound ! 
And O soft hand, O touch most delicate, 

That dost new life reveal, 

That dost in grace abound 
And, slaying, dost from death to life translate." 2 

Here the joy is as passionate, the consciousness of an 
exalted life as intense: but it is dominated by the distinctive 
Christian concepts of humility, surrender, and intimate love. 

We have seen that all real artists, as well as all pure 
mystics, are sharers to some degree in the Illuminated Life: 
are sojourners in, if not true citizens of, the land of heart's 
desire. They have drunk, with Blake, from that cup of intel- 
lectual vision which is the chalice of the Spirit of Life: know 
something of its divine inebriation whenever Beauty inspires 
them to create. Some have only sipped it. Some, like John 
of Parma, have drunk deep ; accepting in that act the mystic 
heritage with all its obligations. But to all who have seen 
Beauty face to face, the Grail has been administered ; and 

1 The " Bacchae " of Euripides (translated by Gilbert Murray), p. 83. 

a St. John of the Cross, "Llama de Amor Viva " (translated by Arthur Symons). 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 285 

through that sacramental communion they are made participants 
in the mystery of the world. 

In one of the most beautiful passages of the "Fioretti" it is 
told how Brother Jacques of la Massa, "unto whom God 
opened the door of His secrets," saw in a vision this Chalice 
of the Spirit of Life delivered by Christ into the hands of St. 
Francis, that he might give his brothers to drink thereof. 

" Then came St. Francis to give the chalice of life to his 
brothers : and he gave it first to Brother John of Parma : who, 
taking it, drank it all in haste, devoutly ; and straightway he 
became all shining like the sun. And after him St. Francis 
gave it to all the other brothers in order : and there were but 
few among them that took it with due reverence and devotion 
and drank it all. Those that took it devoutly and drank it all, 
became straightway shining like the sun ; but those that spilled 
it all and took it not devoutly, became black, and dark, and 
misshapen and horrible to see ; but those that drank part and 
spilled part, became partly shining and partly dark, and more 
so or less according to the measure of their drinking or spilling 
thereof. But the aforesaid Brother John was resplendent above 
all the rest, the which had more completely drunk the chalice 
of life, whereby he had the more deeply gazed into the abyss of the 
infinite light divine? x 

No image, perhaps, could suggest so accurately as this divine 
picture the conditions of perfect illumination : the drinking 
deeply, devoutly, and in haste — that is, without prudent and 
self-regarding hesitation — of the heavenly Wine of Life ; that 
wine of which Rolle says that it " fulfils the soul with a great 
gladness through a sweet contemplation." 2 John of Parma, the 
hero of the Spiritual Franciscans in whose interest this exquisite 
allegory was composed, stands for all the mystics, who, "having 
completely drunk," have attained the power of gazing into the 
abyss of the infinite light divine. In the brothers who drank 
part and spilled part, so that they became partly shining and 
partly dark, "according to the measure of their drinking or 
spilling thereof," we may see an apt image of the artist, 
musician, prophet, poet, dreamer, more or less illuminated 
according to the measure of self-abandonment in which he has 



x i< 



Fioretti," cap. xlviii. (Arnold's translation). 

Richard Rolle of Hampole," ed. Horstman, vol. ii. p. 79. 



286 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

drunk the cup of ecstasy : but always, in comparison with the 
radiance of the pure contemplative, " partly shining and partly 
dark." " Hinder me not," says the soul to the senses in Mech- 
thild of Magdeburg's vision, " I would drink for a space of the 
unmingled wine." x In the artist, the senses have somewhat 
hindered the perfect inebriation of the soul. 

We have seen that a vast tract of experience — all the 
experience, in fact, which results from contact between a purged 
and heightened consciousness and the World of Becoming in 
which it is immersed ; and much, too, of that which results from 
contact set up between such a consciousness and the Absolute 
Itself — is included in that stage of growth which the mystics 
call the Illuminative Way. This is the largest and most 
densely populated province of the mystic kingdom. Such 
disparate visionaries as Suso and Blake, Boehme and Madame 
Guyon, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Fox, Rolle, St. Teresa, and 
countless others have left us the record of their sojourn therein. 
Amongst those who cannot justly be reckoned as pure mystics 
we can detect in the works of Plato and Heracleitus, Words- 
worth, Tennyson, and Walt Whitman certain indications that 
they too were acquainted, beyond most poets and seers, with 
the phenomena of the illuminated life. In our study of this 
degree of transcendence, then, we shall be confronted by a large 
mass of apparently irreconcilable material : the results of the 
relation set up between every degree of lucidity, every kind of 
character, and the suprasensible world. 

To say that God is Infinite is to say that He may be appre- 
hended and described in an infinity of ways. That Circle whose 
centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, may 
be approached from every angle with a certainty of being found. 
Mystical history, particularly that which is concerned with the 
Illuminative Way, is a demonstration of this fact. Here, in the 
establishment of the " first mystic life," of conscious correspon- 
dence with Reality, the self which has oscillated between two 
forms of consciousness, has alternately opposed and embraced 
its growing intuitions of the Absolute, comes for a time to rest. 
To a large extent, the discordant elements of character have 
been purged away. The " dark night of the senses " has been 
endured : though the more terrible " night of the spirit " is yet 

x " Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. i. cap. 43. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 287 

to come. Temporally at least the mind has "unified itself" 
upon high levels, and attained, as it believes, a perdurable 
consciousness of the divine and veritable world. The depth 
and richness of its own nature will determine how intense that 
consciousness shall be. 

Whatever its scope, however, this new apprehension of 
reality at first appears to the Illuminated Self as final and 
complete. As the true lover is always convinced that he has 
found in his bride the one Rose of the World, so the mystic 
is sure that his quest is now fulfilled. In the first glow of his 
initiation into the " Perfect Land " he can conceive no higher 
rapture than this : no more intimate adventure of the soul. 
Ignorant as yet of that final act of communion which over- 
passes the proceedings of the inward eye and ear, he exclaims 
with entire assurance, " Beati oculi qui exterioribus clausi, 
interioribus autem sunt intenti," I and, absorbed in this new bliss- 
ful act of vision, forgets that it belongs to those who are still 
in via. More experience is needed if he is to learn how many 
more celestial secrets await his discovery ; how powerless is the 
heavenly food here given to satisfy his " hunger for the Abso- 
lute " ; how far removed from the true End of Being is this 
basking in the sunbeams of the Uncreated Light, this revolving 
about the Principle of Things. Only the very greatest souls, 
the Galahads of the quest, learn this lesson and tread the whole 
of that " King's Highway " which leads man back to his source. 
"For the many that come to Bethlehem, there be few that 
will go on to Calvary." The rest stay here, in this Earthly 
Paradise, these flowery fields ; where the liberated self wanders 
at will, describing to us as well as it can now this corner, now 
that, of the Country of the Soul. 

It is in these descriptions of the joy of illumination — in the 
outpourings of love and rapture belonging to this state — that 
we shall find the most lyrical passages of mystical literature. 
Here poet, mystic, and musician are on common ground : for 
it is only by the oblique methods of the artist, only by the use 
of aesthetic suggestion and musical rhythm, that the wonder 
of that vision can be expressed. When essential goodness, 
truth, and beauty — Light, Life, and Love — are apprehended 
by the heart, whether the heart be that of lover, painter, saint, 

1 " De Imitatione Christi," 1. iii. cap. i. 



288 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

that apprehension can only be adequately communicated in 
a living, that is to say, an artistic form. 

Here, then, genius and sanctity kiss one another, and each, 
in that sublime encounter, looks for an instant through the 
other's eyes. Hence it is natural and inevitable that the 
mystic should here call into play all the resources of artistic 
expression : the lovely imagery of Julian and Mechthild of 
Magdeburg, Suso's poetic visions, St. Augustine's fire and light, 
the heavenly harmonies of St. Francis and Richard Rolle. 
Symbols, too, play a vast part, not only in the description, but 
also in the machinery of illumination : the intuitions of many 
mystics presenting themselves directly to the surface-mind in a 
symbolic form. We must therefore be prepared for a great 
variety and fluidity of expression in such writers as have tried 
to communicate to us the secret of this state of consciousness. 
We must examine, and even classify in so far as this is possible, 
a wide variety of experience : some which is recognized by 
friends and foes alike as purely " mystical," some in which the 
operation of poetic imagination is clearly discernible, some 
which involves "psychic phenomena" and other abnormal 
activities of the mind. There is no use in being frightened 
away from investigation by the strange, and apparently 
irreconcilable aspect of these things. The wounds of Truth 
are as faithful as the wounds of a friend. 

Now there are three main types of experience which appear 
over and over again in the history of mysticism ; and always in 
connection with illumination, rather than any other phase of 
mystical development. I think that they may fairly be 
regarded as its main characteristics, though of course the 
discussion of them cannot cover all the ground. In few forms 
of life is the spontaneity of the individual so clearly seen as 
here : and in few is the ever-deadly process of classification 
attended with so many risks. 

The three characteristics which I propose to consider are 
these : — 

I. A joyous apprehension of the Absolute : that which many 
ascetic writers call "the practice of the Presence of God." This, 
however, is not to be confused with that unique consciousness 
of union with the divine which is peculiar to a later stage of 
mystical development The self, though purified, still seems to 






THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 289 

itself to exist as a separate entity. It is not immersed in its 
Origin, but contemplates it. This is the "betrothal" rather 
than the " marriage " of the soixl. 

2. This clarity of vision may also be enjoyed in regard to 
the phenomenal world. The actual physical perceptions are 
strangely heightened, so that the self perceives an added 
significance and reality in all natural things : is often convinced 
that it knows at last "the secret of the world." In Blake's 
words " the doors of perception are cleansed " so that " every- 
thing appears to man as it is, infinite." * 

Plainly, these two forms of perception represent that dual 
intuition of a Transcendent-Immanent Reality, that stretching 
of consciousness in two directions until it includes in its 
span both the World of Pure Being and the World of Becom- 
ing, 2 which we found to be one of the distinguishing marks of 
the mystic type. 

3. Along with this two-fold extension of consciousness, the 
energy of the intuitional or transcendental self is enormously 
increased. The psychic upheavals of the Purgative Way have 
tended to make it central for life : to eliminate from the cha- 
racter all those elements which checked its activity. Now it 
seizes upon the ordinary channels of expression ; and frequently 
shows itself in such forms as (a) auditions, (&) dialogues between 
the surface consciousness and another intelligence which pur- 
ports to be divine, (c) visions, and sometimes (d) in automatic 
writings. This automatic activity of those growing but still 
largely subconscious powers which constitute the " New Man," 
increases steadily during the whole of the mystic life. 

Illumination, then, tends to appear mainly under one or all 
of these three forms. Often all are present, though, as a rule, 
one seems to dominate the rest. The character of each case 
will be conditioned by the self's psychic make-up, its tempera- 
mental leaning towards "pure contemplation," "lucid vision," 
or automatic expression, emanation or immanence, the meta- 
physical, artistic, or intimate aspects of truth. The possible 
combinations between these various factors are as innumerable 
as the possible creations of Life itself. 

In Brother Lawrence's " Practice of the Presence of God," 

1 " The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," xxii, 

2 Vide supra, pp. 42-50. 



290 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

in St. Bernard's converse with the Word, in Richard Rolle's 
" state of song," when " sweetest heavenly melody he took, with 
him dwelling in mind," we may see beautiful expressions of the 
first form of illuminated consciousness. Jacob Boehme is 
rightly looked upon as a typical example of the second : which 
is also found in one of its most attractive forms in St. Francis of 
Assisi. Suso and St. Teresa, perhaps, may stand for the third, 
since in them the visionary and auditory phenomena were 
peculiarly well marked. The preliminary study of each cha- 
racteristic in order, will help us to disentangle the many threads 
which go to the psychical make-up of these great and complex 
mystic types. The rest of this chapter will, then, be given to 
the analysis of the two main forms of illuminated consciousness : 
the selfs perception of Reality in the eternal and temporal 
worlds. The important subject of voices and visions demands 
a division to itself. 



i. The Consciousness of the Absolute, or "Sense of 
the Presence of God" 

This consciousness, in its various forms, is perhaps the most 
constant of all the characteristics of Illumination : and it is this 
which makes it, for the mystic soul, a pleasure-state of the 
intensest kind. I do not mean by this that the subject passes 
months or years in a continuous ecstasy of communion with the 
Divine. Intermittent periods of spiritual fatigue or " aridity "- 
the last vestiges of purgation — the oncoming gloom of the Dark 
Night — all these may be, and often are, experienced at intervals 
during the Illuminated Life ; as flashes of insight, indistinguish- 
able from illumination, constantly break the monotony of the 
Purgative Way. But a certain knowledge of this Personal Life 
omnipresent in the universe has been achieved : and can never 
be forgotten though it be withdrawn. The "spirit stretching 
towards God " declares that it has touched Him ; and its normal 
condition henceforth is an acute and joyous consciousness of 
His Presence with " many privy touchings of sweet spiritual 
sights and feeling, measured to us as our simpleness may bear 
it." x Where he prefers less definite or more pantheistic 
language, the mystic's perceptions may take the form of 

1 Julian of Norwich, " Revelations," cap. xliii. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 291 

"harmony with the Infinite" — the same divine music trans- 
posed to a lower key. 

This " sense of God" is not a metaphor. Innumerable decla- 
rations prove it to be a consciousness as sharp as that which other 
men have, or think they have, of colour, heat, or light. It is a 
well-known though usually transitory experience in the religious 
life : like the homing instinct of birds, a fact which can neither 
be denied nor explained. " How that presence is felt, may better 
be known by experience than by any writing," says Hilton, " for 
it is the life and the love, the might and the light, the joy and 
the rest of a chosen soul. And therefore he that hath once 
truly felt it cannot forbear it without pain, neither can he choose 
but desire it, it is so good in itself and so comfortable. . . . He 
cometh secretly sometimes when thou art least aware of Him, 
but thou shalt know Him full well ere He go ; for He wonder- 
fully stirreth and mightily turneth thy heart into the beholding 
of His goodness, and then doth thy heart melt delectably as 
wax against the fire into softness of His love." 1 

Modern psychologists have laboured hard to establish the 
pathological character of this state of consciousness : to find a 
place for it in the hospitable domain of " psychic hallucinations." 2 
The mystics, however, who discriminate so much more delicately 
than their critics between true and false transcendental experi- 
ence, never feel any doubt about the validity of this "sense of 
the presence." Even when their theology contradicts it, they 
refuse to be disturbed. 

Thus St. Teresa writes of her own experience, with her 
usual simplicity and directness, " In the beginning it happened 
to me that I was ignorant of one thing — I did not know that 
God was in all things : and when He seemed to me to be so 
near, I thought it impossible. Not to believe that He was 
present was not in my power ; for it seemed to me, as it were, 
evident that I felt there His very presence. Some unlearned 
men used to say to me. that He was present only by His grace. 
/ could not believe that, because, as I am saying, He seemed to 
me to be present Himself: so I was distressed. A most learned 
man, of the Order of the glorious Patriarch St. Dominic, 

1 " The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. xi. 

3 See Delacroix, " Etudes sur le Mysticisme," Appendix I. " Hallucinations 
Psychiques, Sentiment de Presence." 



292 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

delivered me from this doubt ; for he told me that He was 
present, and how He communed with us : this was a great 
comfort to me." 1 

Again, ."An interior peace, and the little strength which 
either pleasures or displeasures have to remove this presence 
(during the time it lasts) of the Three Persons, and that without 
power to doubt of it, continue in such a manner that I clearly 
seem to experience what St. John says, That He will dwell in 
the soul, and this not only by grace, but that He will also make 
her perceive this presence. 2 St. Teresa's strong " immanental " 
bent comes out well in this passage. 

Such a sense of the divine presence goes side by side with 
the daily life and normal mental activities of its possessor ; 
who is not necessarily an ecstatic or an abstracted visionary, 
remote from the work of the world. It is true that the tran- 
scendental consciousness has now become, once for all, his centre 
of interest : that its perceptions and admonitions dominate and 
light up his daily life. The object of education, in the Platonic 
sense, has been achieved : his soul has " wheeled round from the 
perishing world " to " the contemplation of the real world and 
the brightest part thereof." 3 

In many temperaments of the unstable or artistic type, this 
intuitional consciousness of the Absolute becomes ungovern- 
able : it constantly breaks through, obtaining forcible possession 
of the mental field and expressing itself in the " psychic " 
phenomena of ecstasy and rapture. In others, less mobile, 
it wells up into an impassioned apprehension, a " flame of love" 
in which the self seems to " meet God in the ground of the 
soul." This is " pure contemplation " : that state of deep 
orison in which the subject seems to be "seeing, feeling and 
thinking all at once." By this spontaneous exercise of all his 
powers under the dominion of love, the mystic attains that 
" Vision of the Heart " which, " more interior, perhaps, than the 
visions of dream or ecstasy," 4 stretches to the full those very 
faculties which it seems to be holding in suspense ; as a top 
" sleeps " when it is spinning fast. Ego dormio et cor meum 

1 Vida, cap. xviii. § 20. 

9 " Letters of St. Teresa " (1581), Dalton's translation, No. VII. 

3 " Republic," vii. 518. 

4 Recejac, " Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 151 



!. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 293 

vigilat. This act of contemplation, this glad surrender to an 
overwhelming consciousness of the Presence of God, leaves no 
sharp image on the mind : only a knowledge that we have 
been lifted up, to a veritable gazing upon That which eye 
hath not seen. 

St. Bernard has left us in one of his sermons a simple, 
ingenuous and obviously personal account of such "privy 
touchings," such convincing but elusive contacts of the soul with 
the Absolute. " Now bear with my foolishness for a little," 
he says, " for I wish to tell you, as I have promised, how such 
events have taken place in me. It is, indeed, a matter of 
no importance. But I put myself forward only that I may be 
of service to you ; and if you derive any benefit I am consoled 
for my egotism. If not, I shall but have displayed my foolish- 
ness. I confess, then, though I say it in my foolishness, that the 
Word has visited me, and even very often. But, though He 
has frequently entered into my soul, I have never at any time 
been sensible of the precise moment of His coming. I have felt 
that He was present, I remember that He has been with me ; I 
have sometimes been able even to have a presentiment that He 
would come : but never to feel His coming nor His departure. 
For whence He came to enter my soul, or whither He went on 
quitting it, by what means He has made entrance or departure, 
I confess that I know not even to this day ; according to that 
which is said, Nescis unde veniat aut quo vadat. Nor is this 
strange, because it is to Him that the psalmist has said in 
another place, Vestigia tua non cognoscentur. 

"It is not by the eyes that He enters, for He is without 
form or colour that they can discern ; nor by the ears, for 
His coming is without sound ; nor by the nostrils, for it is 
not with the air but with the mind that He is blended. . . . 
By what avenue then has He entered? Or perhaps the fact 
may be that He has not entered at all, nor indeed come at 
all from outside : for not one of these things belongs to out- 
side. Yet it has not come from within me, for it is good, 
and I know that in me dwelleth no good thing. I have 
ascended higher than myself, and lo ! I have found the 
Word above me still. My curiosity has led me to descend 
below myself also, and yet I have found Him still at a 
lower depth. If I have looked without myself, I have found that 



294 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

He is beyond that which is outside of me ; and if within, 
He was at an inner depth still. And thus have I learned 
the truth of the words I have read, In ipso enim vivimus 
et movemur et sumus." x 

Such a lifting up, such a condition of consciousness as that 
which St. Bernard is here trying to describe, seems to snatch the 
spirit for a moment into a state which it is hard to distinguish 
from that of true "union." This is what the contemplatives 
call passive or infused contemplation, or sometimes the 
" orison of union " : a brief foretaste of the Unitive State, often 
enjoyed for short periods in the Illuminative Way, which 
reinforces their conviction that they have now truly attained 
the Absolute. It is but a foretaste, however, of that attain- 
ment : the precocious effort of a soul still in that stage of 
" Enlightening " — the equivalent of Illumination, — which the 
" Theologia Germanica " declares to be " belonging to such as 
are growing." 2 

This rather fine distinction between temporary union and 
the Unitive Life is perhaps best brought out in a fragment of 
dialogue between Soul and Self in Hugh of St. Victor's mystical 
tract, " De Arrha Animae." 

The Soul says, " Tell me, what can be this thing of delight 
that merely by its memory touches and moves me with such 
sweetness and violence that I am drawn out of myself and 
carried away, I know not how ? I am suddenly renewed : I am 
changed : I am plunged into an ineffable peace. My mind is 
full of gladness, all my past wretchedness and pain is forgot. 
My soul exults : my intellect is illuminated : my heart is afire : 
my desires have become kindly and gentle : I know not where 
I am, because my Love has embraced me. Also, because my 
Love has embraced me I seem to have become possessed of 
something, and I know not what it is ; but I try to keep it, 
that I may never lose it. My soul strives in gladness that she 
may not be separated from That which she desires to hold 
fast for ever: as if she had found in it the goal of all her 
desires. She exults in a sovereign and ineffable manner, seek- 
ing nought, desiring nought, but to rest in this. Is this, then, 
my Beloved? Tell me that I may know Him, and that if He 

1 St. Bernard, "Cantica Canticorum," Sermon lxxiv. 
a " Theologia Germanica," cap. xiv. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 295 

come again I may entreat Him to leave me not, but to stay 
with me for ever." 

Man says, "It is indeed thy Beloved who visits thee ; but 
He comes in an invisible shape, He comes disguised, He comes 
incomprehensibly. He comes to touch thee, not to be seen of 
thee : to arouse thee, not to be comprehended of thee. He 
comes not to give Himself wholly, but to be tasted by thee : 
not to fulfill thy desire, but to lead upwards thy affection. He 
gives a foretaste of His delights, brings not the plenitude of a 
perfect satisfaction : and the earnest of thy betrothal consists 
chiefly in this, that He who shall afterwards give Himself to be 
seen and possessed by thee perpetually, now permits Himself to 
be sometimes tasted, that thou mayest learn how sweet He is. 
This shall console thee for His absence : and the savour of this 
gift shall keep thee from all despair." x 

The- real distinction between the Illuminative and the 
Unitive Life is that in Illumination the individuality of the 
subject — however profound his spiritual consciousness, however 
close his communion with the Infinite — remains separate and 
intact. His heightened apprehension of reality governs rather 
than obliterates the rest of his life : and may even increase his 
power of dealing adequately with the accidents of normal 
existence. Thus Brother Lawrence found that his acute sense 
of reality, his apprehension of the Presence of God, and the 
resulting detachment and consciousness of liberty in regard to 
mundane things, upheld and assisted him in the most unlikely 
tasks ; as, for instance, when he was sent into Burgundy to buy 
wine for his convent, " which was a very unwelcome task to him, 
because he had no turn for business, and because he was lame, 
and could not go about the boat but by rolling himself over the 
casks. That, however, he gave himself no uneasiness about, 
nor about the purchase of the wine. That he said to God, It 
was His business he was about : and that he afterwards found it 
very well performed. ... So likewise in his business in the 
kitchen, to which he had naturally a great aversion." 2 

The mind, concentrated upon a higher object of interest, is 
undistracted by its own likes and dislikes ; and performs 
efficiently the work that is given it to do. Where it does not 

1 Hugh of St. Victor, "De Arrha Animae " (Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. clxxvi.). 

2 " The Practice of the Presence of God," Second Conversation. 



296 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

do so, then the normal make-up of the subject, rather than its 
mystical proclivities, must be blamed. St. Catherine of Genoa 
found in this divine companionship the power which made her 
hospital a success. St. Teresa was an admirable housewife, and 
declared that she found her God very easily amongst the pots 
and pans. 1 Appearances notwithstanding, Mary would prob- 
ably have been a better cook than Martha, had circumstances 
forced on her this form of activity. 

In persons of feeble or diffuse intelligence, however, this 
deep absorption in the sense of Divine Reality may easily 
degenerate into mono-ideism. Then the "black side" of Illu- 
mination, a selfish preoccupation with transcendental joys, the 
" spiritual gluttony " condemned by St. John of the Cross, comes 
out. " I made many mistakes," says Madame Guyon patheti- 
cally, "through allowing myself to be too much taken up by 
my interior joys. ... I used to sit in a corner and work, but 
I could hardly do anything, because the strength of this attrac- 
tion made me let the work fall out of my hands. I spent hours 
in this way without being able to open my eyes or to know 
what was happening to me : so simply, so peacefully, so gently 
that sometimes I said to myself, 'Can heaven itself be more 
peaceful than I ? ' " 2 

Here we see Madame Guyon basking like a pious tabby cat 
in the beams of the Uncreated Light, and already leaning to 
the extravagances of Quietism with its dangerous " double 
character of passivity and beatitude." The heroic aspect of the 
mystic vocation is wholly in abeyance. The " triumphing 
spiritual life," which her peculiar psychic make-up permitted 
her to receive, has been treated as a source of personal and 
placid satisfactions, not as a well-spring whence new vitality 
might be drawn for great and self-giving activities. 

It has been claimed by the early biographers of St. Catherine 
of Genoa that she passed in the crisis of her conversion directly 
through the Purgative to the Unitive Life ; and never exhibited 
the characteristics of the Illuminative Way. This has been 
effectually disproved by the Baron von Hiigel,3 though he too 
is inclined in her case to reject the usual sequence of the mystic 

1 G. Cunninghame Graham, "Santa Teresa," vol. i. p. 299. 

2 Vie, pt. i. cap. xvii. 

3 "Mystical Element of Religion," vol. i. p. 105. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 297 

states. Yet the description of Catherine's condition after her 
four great penitential years were ended, as given in cap. vi. of the 
" Vita e Dottrina," is an almost perfect picture of healthy illu- 
mination of the inward or " immanent " type ; and may fruitfully 
be compared with the passage which I have quoted from 
Madame Guyon's life. 

No doubt there were hours in which St. Catherine's experi- 
ence, as it were, ran ahead ; and she felt herself not merely lit 
up by the Indwelling Light, but temporally merged in it. 
These moments are responsible for such passages as the beau- 
tiful fragment in cap. v., which does, when taken alone, seem to 
describe the true unitive state. " Sometimes," she said, " I do 
not see or feel myself to have either soul, body, heart, will or 
taste, or any other thing except Pure Love." 1 Her normal 
condition of consciousness, however, was clearly not yet that 
which Julian of Norwich calls being " oned with bliss " ; but 
rather an intense and continuous communion with an objective 
Reality which she still felt to be distinct from herself. "After 
the aforesaid four years," says the next chapter of the " Vita," 
" there was given unto her a purified mind, free, and filled with 
God : insomuch that no other thing could enter into it. Thus, 
when she heard sermons or Mass, so much was she absorbed in 
her interior feelings, that she neither heard nor saw that which 
was said or done without : but within, in the sweet divine light, 
she saw and heard other things — being wholly absorbed by 
their interior light : and it was not in her power to act other- 
wise." Catherine, then, is still a spectator of the Absolute, 
does not feel herself to be one with it. "And it is a marvellous 
thing that with so great an interior recollection, the Lord never 
permitted her to go beyond control. But when she was needed, 
she always came to herself: so that she was able to reply to 
that which was asked of her : and the Lord so guided her, that 
none could complain of her. And she had her mind so filled 
by Love Divine, that conversation became hard to her : and by 
this continuous taste and sense of God, several times she was so 
greatly transported, that she was forced to hide herself, that she 
might not be seen." It is clear, however, that Catherine herself 
was aware of the transitory and imperfect nature of this intensely 
joyous state. Her growing transcendental self, unsatisfied with 

1 Vita e Dottrina, loc. cit. 



298 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

the sunshine of the Illuminative Way, the enjoyment of the 
riches of God, already aspired to union with the Divine. With 
her, as with all truly heroic souls, it was love for love, not love 
for joy. " She cried to God because He gave her so many con- 
solations, ' Non voglio quello che esce da U t ma sol voglio te, O 
dolce Amove ! ' " z 

" Non voglio quello che esce da te." When the crescent soul 
has come to this, the Illuminative Way is nearly at an end. It 
has seen the goal, " that Country which is no mere vision, but 
a home," 2 and is set upon the forward march. So Gertrude 
More : " No knowledge which we can here have of thee can 
satisfy my soul seeking and longing without ceasing after thee. 
. . . Alas, my Lord God, what is al thou canst give to a loving 
soul which sigheth and panteth after thee alone, and esteemeth 
al things as dung that she may gain thee ? What is al I say, 
whilst thou givest not thyself, who art that one thing which is 
only necessary and which alone can satisfy our souls ? Was it 
any comfort to St. Mary Magdalen, when she sought thee, to 
find two angels which presented themselves instead of thee? 
verily I cannot think it was any joy unto her. For that soul 
that hath set her whole love and desire on thee can never find 
any true satisfaction but only in thee." 3 

What is the nature of this mysterious mystic illumination ? 
Apart from the message it transmits, what is the form which 
it most usually assumes in the consciousness of the self? The 
illuminatives, one and all, seem to assure us that its apparently 
symbolic name is a realistic one ; that it appears to them as a 
kind of radiance, a flooding of the personality with new light. 
A new sun rises above the horizon and transfigures their twilit 
world. Over and over again they return to light-imagery in 
this connection. Frequently, as in the case of their first con- 
version, they report an actual and overpowering consciousness 

1 " I desire not that which comes forth from Thee ; but only I desire Thee, O 
sweetest Love ! " (Vita e Dottrina, cap. vi.). 

3 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. xx. Compare St. Teresa : " Rapture is a great help to 
recognize our true home and to see that we are pilgrims here ; it is a great thing to 
see what is going on there, and to know where we have to live ; for if a person has 
to go and settle in another country, it is a great help to him in undergoing the fatigues 
of his journey that he has discovered it to be a country where he may live in the most 
perfect peace" (Vida, cap. xxxviii., § 8). 

3 "Spiritual Exercises," pp. 26 and 174. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 299 

of radiant light, ineffable in its splendour, as an accompani- 
ment of their inward adjustment. 

M Sopr' ogne lengua amore 
bonta senza figura 
lume fuor di mesura 
resplende nel mio core," x 

sang Jacopone da Todi. " Light rare, untellable ! " said 
Whitman. " The flowing light of the Godhead," said Mech- 
thild of Magdeburg, trying to describe what it was that made 
the difference between her universe and that of normal men. 
" Lux vivens dicit" said St. Hildegarde of her revelations, which 
she described as appearing in a special light, more brilliant than 
the brightness round the sun. 2 It is an "infused brightness," 
says St. Teresa, " a light which knows no night ; but rather, 
as it is always light, nothing ever disturbs it." 3 

" De subito parve giorno a giorno 
essere aggiunto ! " 

exclaims Dante, initiated into the atmosphere of heaven ; 
" Lume e lassu " is his constant declaration : 

" Cio ch' io dico e un semplice lume," 

his last word, in the effort to describe the soul's apprehension of 
the Being of God.4 

It really seems as though the mystics' attainment of new 
levels of consciousness did bring with it the power of perceiving 
a splendour always there, but beyond the narrow range of our 
poor sight ; to which it is only a " luminous darkness " at the 
best. * In Eternal Nature, or the kingdom of Heaven," said 
Law, " materiality stands in life and light." 5 The cumulative 
testimony on this point is such as would be held to prove, in 
any other department of knowledge, that there is indeed an 

1 "Love above all language, goodness unimagined, light without measure 
shines in my heart " (Jacopone da Todi. Lauda xci.). 

2 Pitra, " Analecta S. Hildegardis opera," p. 332. 

3 St. Teresa, Vida, cap. xxviii. §§ 7, 8. 

4 Par. i. 61, xxx. 100, xxxiii. 90. 

5 "An Appeal to All who Doubt." I give the whole passage below, p. 316. 



300 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

actual light, rare, untellable, " lighting the very light " and 
awaiting the recognition of men. 1 

Consider the accent of realism with which St. Augustine 
speaks in the most celebrated passage of the " Confessions " : 
where we seem to see a born psychologist desperately struggling 
by means of negations to describe an intensely positive state. " I 
entered into the secret closet of my soul, led by Thee ; and 
this I could do because Thou wast my helper. I entered, and 
beheld with the mysterious eye of my soul the Light that never 
changes, above the eye of my soul, above my intelligence. It 
was not the common light which all flesh can see, nor was it 
greater yet of the same kind, as if the light of day were to 
grow brighter and brighter and flood all space. It was not like 
this, but different : altogether different from all such things. 
Nor was it above my intelligence in the same way as oil is 
above water, or heaven above earth, but it was higher because 
it made me, and I was lower because made by it. He who 
knoweth the truth knoweth that Light : and who knoweth it, 
knoweth eternity. Love knoweth it." 2 

Here, as in the case of St. Teresa, St. Catherine of Genoa, 
and Jacopone da Todi, we have a characteristically * imma- 
nental " description of the illuminated state. The self, by the 
process which mystics call " introversion," the deliberate turn- 
ing inwards of its attention, its conative powers, discerns Reality 
within the heart : " the rippling tide of love which flows secretly 
from God into the soul and draws it mightily back into its 
source." 3 But the opposite or transcendental tendency — the 
splendid Cosmic vision of Infinity exterior to the subject — 
the expansive, outgoing movement towards a Divine Light, 

" Che visible face 
lo Creatore a quella creatura 
che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace," 4 



1 It is, of course, arguable that the whole of this light-imagery is ultimately 
derived from the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel : as the imagery of the Spiritual 
Marriage is supposed to be derived from the Song of Solomon. But it must ibe 
remembered that mystics are essentially realists, always seeking for language 
adequate to their vision of truth : hence the fact that they have adopted Ithis imagery 
is a guarantee that it represents something which they know and are struggling to 
describe. 

2 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x. 3 Mechthild of Magdeburg, op. cit. y pt. vii. 45. 

4 Par. xxx. 100, " Which makes visible the Creator to that creature who 
only in beholding Him finds its peace." 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 301 

the strange, formless absorption in the Divine Dark to which 
the soul is destined to ascend — these modes of perception are 
equally characteristic of the Illuminative Way. As in conver- 
sion, so here, Reality may be apprehended in either transcen- 
dent or immanent, positive or negative terms. It is both near and 
far ; and for some selves that which is far is easiest to find. To 
a certain type of mind, the veritable practice of the Presence of 
God is not the intimate and adorable companionship of the 
Inward Light, but the awestruck contemplation of the Absolute, 
the " naked Godhead," source and origin of all that Is. It is an 
ascent to the supernal plane of perception where, "without 
veils, in themselves and in their changelessness, the mysteries 
of theology appear in the midst of the luminous darkness of a 
silence which is full of profound teaching : a marvellous dark- 
ness which shines with rays of splendour, and which, invisible 
and intangible, inundates with its fires the dazzled and sancti- 
fied soul." x 

With such an experience of eternity, such a vision of the 
Triune all-including Absolute which "binds the Universe 
with love," Dante ends his " Divine Comedy " : and the 
mystic joy with which its memory fills him is his guarantee 
that he has really seen the Inviolate Rose, the Flaming 
Heart of things. 

" O abbondante grazia, ond' io presunsi 

ficcar lo viso per la luce eterna, 

tanto die la veduta vi consunsi ! 
Nel suo profondo vidi che s' interna, 

legato con amore in un volume, 

cio che per l'universo si squaderna ; 
Sustanzia ed accidenti, e lor costume, 

quasi conflati insieme per tal modo, 

che cio ch' io dico e un semplice lume. 
La forma universal di questo nodo 

credo ch' io vidi, perche piu di largo, 

dicendo questo, mi sento ch' io godo. 



O, quanto e corto il dire, e come fioco 

al mio concetto ! e questo, a quel ch' io vidi, 
e tanto, che non basta a dicer poco. 

1 Dionysius the Areopagite, " De Mystica Theologia," i. I. 



302 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

O luce eterna, che sola in te sidi, 
sola t* intendi, e, da te intelletta 
ed intendente te, ami ed arridi;! " * 

In Dante, the transcendent and impersonal aspect of illumi- 
nation is seen in its most exalted form. It seems at first sight 
almost impossible to find room within the same system for this 
expansive vision of the Undifferentiated Light and such inti- 
mate and personal apprehensions of Deity as Lady Julian's 
conversations with her "courteous and dearworthy Lord," 
St. Catherine's companionship with Love Divine. Yet all these 
are really reports of the same psychological state : describe the 
attainment of the same grade of reality. 

In a wonderful passage, unique in the literature of mys- 
ticism, Angela of Foligno has reported the lucid vision in which 
she perceived this truth : the twofold apprehension of an 
Absolute at once humble and omnipotent, personal and tran- 
scendent — the unimaginable synthesis of " unspeakable power " 
and " deep humility." 

" The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld the 
plenitude of God, whereby I did comprehend the whole world, 
both here and beyond the sea, and the Abyss and all things 
else ; and therein did I behold naught save the divine power in 
a manner assuredly indescribable, so that through excess of 
marvelling the soul cried with a loud voice, saying ' This whole 
world is full of God ! ' Wherefore did I now comprehend that 
the world is but a small thing ; I saw, moreover, that the 
power of God was above all things, and that the whole world 
was filled with it. Then He said unto me : ' I have shown thee 
something of My Power,' the which I did so well understand, 

1 Par. xxxiii. 82, 121 : — 

" O grace abounding ! wherein I presumed to fix my ga«e on the eternal light, 
so long that I consumed my sight thereon ! 

In its depths I saw ingathered the scattered leaves of the universe, bound into one 
book by love. 

Substance and accidents, and their relations ; as if fused together in such a 
manner that what I tell of is a simple light. 

And I believe that I saw the universal form of this complexity ; because, as I 
say this, I feel that I rejoice more deeply. . . . 

Oh, but how scant the speech and how faint to my concept ! and that to what I 
saw is such, that it suffices not to call it ' little.' 

O Light Eternal, Who only in Thyself abidest, only Thyself dost comprehend, 
and, of Thysel fcomprehended and Thyself comprehending, dost love and smile ! " 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 303 

that it enabled me better to understand all other things. He 
said also, 'I have made thee to see something of My Power; 
behold now, and see My humility.' Then was I given so deep 
an insight into the humility of God towards man and all other 
things, that when my soul remembered His unspeakable power 
and comprehended His deep humility, it marvelled greatly and 
did esteem itself to be nothing at all." l 

It must never be forgotten that all apparently one-sided 
descriptions of illumination — more, all experiences of it — are 
governed by temperament. " That Light whose smile kindles 
the Universe " is ever the same ; but the self through whom 
it passes, and by whom we must receive its report, has 
already submitted to the moulding influences of environment 
and heredity, Church and State. The very language of which 
that self avails itself in its struggle for expression, links 
it with half a hundred philosophies and creeds. The response 
which it makes to Divine Love will be the same in type as the 
response which its nature would make to earthly love: but 
raised to the nth degree. We, receiving the revelation, 
receive with it all those elements which the subject has contri- 
buted in spite of itself. Hence the apprehension of Divine 
Reality may take almost any form, from the metaphysical 
ecstasies which we find in Dionysius, and to a less degree in St. 
Augustine, to the simple, almost "common-sense" state- 
ments of Brother Lawrence, the lovely intimacies of Julian 
or Mechthild. 

Sometimes — so rich and varied does the nature of the great 
mystic tend to be — the exalted and impersonal language of the 
Dionysian theology goes, with no sense of incongruity, side by side 
with homely parallels drawn from the most sweet and common 
incidents of daily life. Suso, in whom illumination and purga- 
tion existed side by side for sixteen years, alternately obtaining 
possession of the mental field, and whose oscillations between 
the harshest mortification and the most ecstatic pleasure-states 
were exceptionally violent and swift, is a characteristic instance 
of such an attitude of mind. His illumination was largely of the 
intimate and immanental type ; but it was not without touches of 
mystical transcendence, which break out with sudden splendour 

1 B. Angelae de Fulginio, "Visionum et Instructionum Liber," cap. xxii. 
(English translation, p. 172). 



304 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

side by side with those tender and charming passages in which 
the Servitor of the Eternal Wisdom tries to tell his love. 

Thus, he describes in one of the earlier chapters of his 
life how " whilst he was thinking, according to his custom, of 
the most lovable Wisdom, he questioned himself, and inter- 
rogated his heart which sought persistently for love, saying, 
4 O my heart, whence comes this love and grace, whence comes 
this gentleness s and beauty, this joy and sweetness of the 
heart ? Does not all this flow forth from the Godhead as from 
its origin? Come! let my heart, my senses and my soul 
immerse themselves in the deep Abyss whence come these 
adorable things. What shall keep me back? To-day I will 
embrace you, even as my burning heart desires to do.' And at 
this moment there was within his heart as it were an emanation 
of all good ; all that is beautiful, all that is lovable and desirable 
was there spiritually present, and this in a manner which 
cannot be expressed. Whence came the habit that every time 
he heard God's praises sung or said, he recollected himself in the 
depths of his heart and soul, and thought on that Beloved 
Object, whence comes all love. It is impossible to tell how often, 
with eyes filled with tears, and open heart, he has embraced his 
sweet Friend, and pressed Him to a heart overflowing with love. 
He was like a baby which a mother holds upright on her knees, 
supporting it with her hands beneath its arms. The baby, by 
the movements of its little head, and all its little body, tries 
to get closer and closer to its dear mother, and shows by its 
little laughing gestures the gladness in its heart. Thus did the 
heart of the Servitor ever seek the sweet neighbourhood of the 
Divine Wisdom, and thus he was as it were altogether filled with 
delight." i 

2. The Illuminated Vision of the World 

Very clearly connected with the sense of "the Presence 
of God," or power of perceiving the Absolute, is the comple- 
mentary mark of the illuminated consciousness ; the vision of " a 
new heaven and a new earth," or an added significance and 
reality in the phenomenal world. Such words as those of Julian, 
" God is all thing that is good as to my sight, and the goodness 

1 Suso, Leben,cap.iv. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 305 

that all thing hath, it is He," « seem to provide the link 
between the two. Here again we have to distinguish care- 
fully between vaguely poetic language — " the light that never 
was," " every common bush afire with God " — and descriptions 
which relate to a concrete and definite psychological experience. 
This experience, at its best, balances and completes the 
experience of the Presence of God at its best. That is to say, 
its "note" is sacramental, not ascetic. It entails the ex- 
pansion rather than the concentration of consciousness, the 
discovery of the Perfect One ablaze in the Many, not the for- 
saking of the Many in order to find the One. Its characteristic 
expression is — 

" The World is charged with the grandeur of God ; 
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil," 

i 

not " turn thy thoughts into thy own soul, where He is hid." It 
takes, as a rule, the form of an enormously enhanced mental 
lucidity — a sharpening of the senses, as it were — whereby an 
ineffable radiance, a beauty and a reality never before suspected, 
are perceived by a sort of clairvoyance shining in the meanest 
things. 

" From the moment in which the soul has received the 
impression of Deity in infused orison," says Malaval, " she sees 
Him everywhere, by one of love's secrets which is only 
known of those who have experienced it. The simple vision 
of pure love, which is marvellously penetrating, does not stop at 
the outer husk of creation : it penetrates to the divinity which 
is hidden within." 2 

Thus Browning makes David declare — 

" I but open my eyes, — and perfection, no more and no less, 
In the kind I imagined full-fronts me, and God is seen God 
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod." 3 

Blake's "To see a world in a grain of sand," Tennyson's 
" Flower in the crannied wall," Vaughan's " Each bush and 

1 " Revelations," cap. viii. 

2 Malaval, " De l'Oraison Ordinaire " (" La Pratique de la Vraye Theologie 
Mystique," vol. i. p. 342). 

3 "Saul," xvii. 



306 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

oak doth know I AM," and the like, are exact though over- 
quoted reports of " things seen " in this state of consciousness, 
this " simple vision of pure love " : the value of which is summed 
up in Eckhart's profound saying, " The meanest thing that one 
knows in God, — for instance, if one could understand a flower 
as it has its Being in God — this would be a higher thing 
than the whole world ! " * Many mystical poets of the type of 
Wordsworth and Walt Whitman possessed to a considerable 
extent this form of illumination. It is this which Bucke, the 
American psychologist, has analysed in great detail under the 
name of " Cosmic Consciousness." 2 It is seen at its fullest 
development in such cases as those of Fox, Boehme, and 
Blake. 

We will first take the experience of Jacob Boehme, both 
because in his case we have a first-hand description which is 
particularly detailed and complete, and because he is one of 
the best recorded all-round examples of mystical illumination ; 
exhibiting, along with an acute consciousness of divine com- 
panionship, all those phenomena of visual lucidity, automatism, 
and enhanced intellectual powers which properly belong to it, 
but are seldom developed simultaneously in the same individual. 

In Boehme's life, as described in the Introduction to the 
English translation of his Collected Works, 3 there were three 
distinct onsets of illumination ; all of the pantheistic and 
external type. In the first, which seems to have happened 
whilst he was very young, it is said that " he was surrounded by 
a divine Light for seven days, and stood in the highest con- 
templation and Kingdom of Joy." This, perhaps, we may 
reasonably identify with mystical awakening of the kind 
experienced by Suso. About the year 1600 occurred the 
second illumination, initiated by a trance-like state of conscious- 
ness, the result of gazing at a polished disc. To this I have 
already referred in an earlier chapter.4 This brought with it 
that peculiar and lucid vision of the inner reality of the 
phenomenal world in which, as he himself says, " he looked into 

1 Meister Eckhart (" Mystische Schriften," p. 137). 

2 Vide supra, Pt. II. Cap. II., the cases of Richard Jefferies, Brother Lawrence, 
and others. 

3 The Works of Jacob Boehme, 4 vols., 1764, vol. i. pp. xii., &c. 

4 Supra, p. 69. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 307 

the deepest foundations of things." " He believed that it was 
only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he 
went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he 
gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, 
and that actual Nature harmonized with what he had inwardly 
seen." » Of this same experience and the clairvoyance which 
accompanied it, another biographer says, " Going abroad in the 
fields to a green before Neys Gate, at Gorlitz, he there sat down, 
and, viewing the herbs and grass of the field in his inward light, 
he saw into their essences, use and properties, which were dis- 
covered to him by their lineaments, figures and signatures. . . . 
In the unfolding of these mysteries before his understanding, he 
had a great measure of joy, yet returned home and took care of 
his family and lived in great peace and silence, scarce intimating 
to any these wonderful things that had befallen him." 2 

So far as we can tell from his own scattered statements, 
Boehme must have lived from this time onwards in fairly con- 
stant and growing consciousness of the transcendental world : 
though there is evidence that he, like all other mystics, knew 
seasons of darkness, " many a shrewd Repulse," and times of 
struggle with that " powerful contrarium " the lower conscious- 
ness. In 1610 — perhaps as the result of such intermittent 
struggles — the vivid illumination of ten years before was repeated 
in an enhanced form : and it was in consequence of this, and in 
order that there might be some record of the mysteries upon 
which he had gazed, that he wrote his first and most difficult 
book, the " Aurora," or " Morning Redness." The passage in 
which the " inspired shoemaker " has tried hard to tell us what 
his vision of Reality was like, to communicate something of the 
grave and enthusiastic travail of his being, the indicible know- 
ledge of things to which he attained, is one of those which 
arouse in all who have even the rudiments of mystical percep- 
tion the sorrow and excitement of exiles who suddenly hear 
the accents of home. It is a " musical " passage : addresses 
itself to the whole being, not merely to the intellect. In its 
movement, and in the quality of its emotion, it is like some 
romance by Brahms. Those who will listen and be receptive 

1 Martensen, "Jacob Boehme," p. 7. 

2 " Life of Jacob Boehme," pp. xiii. and xiv. in vol. i. of his Collected Works, 
English translation. 



308 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

will find themselves repaid by a strange sense of extended life, 
an exhilarating consciousness of truth. Here, if ever, is a man 
who is straining every nerve to " speak as he saw " : and it is 
plain that he saw much — as much, perhaps, as Dante, though he 
lacked the poetic genius which was needed to give his vision 
an intelligible form. The very strangeness of the phrasing, the 
unexpected harmonies and dissonances which worry polite and 
well-regulated minds, are earnests of the Spirit of Life crying 
out for expression from within. Boehme, like Blake, seems 
" drunk with intellectual vision " — " a God-intoxicated man." 

" In this my earnest and Christian Seeking and Desire," he 
says, " (wherein I suffered many a shrewd Repulse, but at last 
resolved rather to put myself in Hazard, than give over and 
leave off) the Gate was opened to me, that in one Quarter of 
an Hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years 
together at an University, at which I exceedingly admired, and 
thereupon turned my Praise to God for it. For I saw and knew 
the Being of all Beings, the Byss and the Abyss, and the 
Eternal Generation of the Holy Trinity, the Descent and Original 
of the World, and of all creatures through the Divine Wisdom : 
knew and saw in myself all the three Worlds, namely, The 
Divine \ angelical and paradisical ; and the dark World, the 
Original of the Nature to the Fire ; and then, thirdly, the ex- 
ternal and visible World, being a Procreation or external Birth 
from both the internal and spiritual Worlds. And I saw and 
knew the whole working Essence in the Evil and the Good, 
and the Original and Existence of each of them ; and likewise 
how the fruitful bearing Womb of Eternity brought forth. . . 
Yet however I must begin to labour in these great mysteries, 
as a Child that goes to School. I saw it as in a great Deep in 
the Internal. For I had a thorough view of the Universe, 
as in a Chaos, wherein all things are couched and wrapped up, 
but it was impossible for me to explain the same. Yet it 
opened itself to me, from Time to Time, as in a Young Plant ; 
though the same was with me for the space of twelve years, 
and as it was as it were breeding and I found a powerful 
Instigation within me, before I could bring it forth into 
external Form of Writing : and whatever I could apprehend 
with the external Principle of my mind, that I wrote down." x 

1 Op. cit., p. xv. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 309 

Close to this lucid vision of the reality of things — this 
sudden glimpse of the phenomenal in the light of the intel- 
ligible world — is George Fox's experience at the age of twenty- 
four, as recorded in his Journal. 1 Here, as in Boehme's case, 
it is clear that a previous and regrettable acquaintance with the 
" doctrine of signatures " has to some extent determined the 
language and symbols under which he describes his intuitive 
vision of actuality as it exists in the Divine Mind. 

"Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword 
into the Paradise of God. All things were new: and all the 
creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what 
words can utter. . . . The creation was opened to me ; and it 
was showed me how all things had their names given them, 
according to their nature and virtue. And I was at a stand in 
my mind whether I should practise physic for the good of 
mankind, seeing the nature and virtue of the creatures were 
so opened to me by the Lord. . . . Great things did the Lord 
lead me unto, and wonderful depths were opened unto me, 
beyond what can by words be declared ; but as people come 
into subjection to the Spirit of God, and grow up in the image 
and power of the Almighty, they may receive the word of 
wisdom that opens all things, and come to know the hidden 
unity in the Eternal Being." 

" To know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being " — know 
it with an invulnerable certainty, in the all-embracing act of 
consciousness with which we are aware of the personality of 
those we truly love — is to live at its fullest the Illuminated Life, 
enjoying " all creatures in God and God in all creatures." 

Lucidity of this sort seems to be an enormously enhanced 
form of the true poetic consciousness of " otherness " in natural 
things — the sense of a unity in separateness, a mighty and actual 
Life beyond that which eye can see, a glorious reality shining 
through the phenomenal veil — frequent in those temperaments 
which are at one with life ; often — as in Blake — a permanent 
accompaniment of the Illuminative State, and a constant though 
transitory feature in conversions of all kinds. The self becomes 
conscious, as it were, of that World of Becoming, that great 
and many-coloured river of life, in which the little individual 
life is immersed. Alike in howling gale and singing cricket it 

1 Vol. i. cap. ii. 



310 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

hears the crying aloud of that " Word which is through all 
things everlastingly." It participates, actively and open-eyed, 
in the mighty journey of the Son towards the Father's heart : 
and seeing with purged sight all things and creatures as they 
are in that transcendent order, detects in them too that striving 
of Creation to return to its centre which is the secret of the 
Universe. 

A harmony is thus set up between the mystic and Life in all 
its forms. Undistracted by appearance, he sees, feels, and knows 
it in one piercing act of loving comprehension. " And the 
bodily sight stinted," says Julian, " but the spiritual sight dwelled 
in mine understanding, and I abode with reverent dread joying 
in that I saw." 1 The heart outstrips the clumsy senses, and 
sees — perhaps for an instant, perhaps for long periods of bliss 
— an undistorted and more veritable world. All things are 
perceived in the light of charity, and hence under the aspect 
of beauty : for beauty is simply Reality seen with the eyes of 
love. As in the case of another and more beatific Vision, 
essere in carita e qui necesse. 2 For such a reverent and joyous 
sight the meanest accidents of life are radiant. The London 
streets are paths of loveliness ; the very omnibuses look like 
coloured archangels, their laps filled full of little trustful souls. 

Often when we blame our artists for painting ugly things, 
they are but striving to show us a beauty to which we are 
blind. They have gone on ahead of us, and attained that state 
of " fourfold vision " to which Blake laid claim ; in which the 
visionary sees the whole visible universe transfigured, because 
he has " put off the rotten rags of sense and memory," and 
"put on Imagination uncorrupt."3 In this state of lucidity 
symbol and reality, Nature and Imagination, are seen to be 
One: and in it are produced all the more sublime works of 
art, since these owe their greatness to the impact of Reality 
upon the artistic mind. " I know," says Blake again, " that 
this world is a world of imagination and vision. I see every- 
thing I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. 
To the eye of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the 
sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful 
proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which 

1 u Revelations," cap. viii. ' Par. iii. 77. 

3 " Letters of William Blake," p. in. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 311 

moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a 
green thing which stands in the way. Some see Nature all 
ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my 
proportions ; and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the 
eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. 
As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its 
powers. You certainly mistake, when you say that the visions 
of fancy are not to be found in this world. To me this world 
is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination, and I feel 
flattered when I am told so." 1 

If the Mystic Way be considered as a process of tran- 
scendence : a movement of the self towards free and conscious 
participation in the Absolute Life, and a progressive appro- 
priation of that life by means of the contact which exists in 
the deeps of man's being — the ground or spark of the soul — 
between the subject and the transcendental world : then this 
illuminated apprehension of things, this cleansing of the doors 
of perception, is surely what we might expect to occur as man 
moves towards higher centres of consciousness. His surface 
intelligence, purified from the domination of the senses, is 
invaded more and more by the transcendent personality, the 
" New Man " who is by nature a denizen of the independent 
spiritual world, and whose destiny, in mystical language, is a 
" return to his Origin." Hence an inflow of new vitality, extended 
powers of vision, an enormous exaltation of his intuitive powers. 

In such moments of clear sight and enhanced perception as 
that which Blake and Boehme describe, the mystic and the 
artist do really see sub specie aeternitatis the Four-fold River 
of Life — that World of Becoming in which, as Erigena says, 
" Every visible and invisible creature is a theophany or 
appearance of God " — as all might see it, if prejudice, selfhood, 
or other illusion did not distort their sight. From this loving 
vision there comes very often that beautiful sympathy with, 
that abnormal power over, all living natural things, which crops 
up over and over again in the lives of the mystical saints ; to 
amaze the sluggish minds of common men, barred by "the 
torrent of Use and Wont" 2 from all communion alike with 
their natural and supernatural origin. 

Yet is not so very amazing that St. Francis of Assisi, feeling 

1 Op. cit. y p. 62. 2 Aug. Conf., bk. i. cap. xvi. 



312 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and knowing — not merely " believing " — that every living 
creature was veritably and actually a " theophany or appearance 
of God," should have been acutely conscious that he shared with 
these brothers and sisters of his the great and lovely life of the 
All. Nor, this being so, can we justly regard him as eccentric 
because he acted in accordance with his convictions, preached to 
his little sisters the birds, 1 availed himself of the kindly offices 
of the falcon, 2 enjoyed the friendship of the pheasant,3 soothed 
the captured turtledoves, his "simple-minded sisters, innocent 
and chaste," 4 or persuaded his Brother Wolf to a better life.s 

The true mystic, so often taunted with "a denial of the 
world," does but deny the narrow and artificial world of self: 
and finds in exchange the secrets of that mighty universe which 
he shares with Nature and with God. Strange contacts, un- 
known to those who only lead the life of sense, are set up 
between his being and the being of all other things. In that 
remaking of his consciousness which follows upon the " mystical 
awakening," the deep and primal life which he shares with all 
creation has been roused from its sleep. Hence the barrier 
between human and non-human life, which makes man a 
stranger on earth as well as in heaven, is done away. Life 
now whispers to his life: all things are his intimates, and 
respond to his fraternal sympathy. 

Thus it seems quite a simple and natural thing to the Little 
Poor Man of Assisi, whose friend the pheasant preferred his cell 
to " the haunts more natural to its state," that he should be 
ambassador from the terrified folk of Gubbio to his formidable 
brother the Wolf. The result of the interview, reduced to 
ordinary language, could be paralleled in the experience of 
many persons who have possessed this strange and incom- 
municable power over animal life. 

" O wondrous thing ! whenas St. Francis had made the sign 
of the Cross, right so the terrible wolf shut his jaws and stayed 
his running : and when he was bid, came gently as a lamb and 
laid him down at the feet of St. Francis. . . . And St. Francis 
stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf 

1 " Fioretti," cap. xiv. 

2 /did., u Delle Istimate," 2, and Thomas of Celano, Vita Secunda, cap. cxxvii. 

3 Thomas of Celano, op. cit., cap. cxxix. 

4 * Fioretti," cap. xxii. s Ibid., cap. xxi. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 313 

lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the 
hand of St. Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he 
was able. Then quoth St. Francis, ' Brother Wolf, I bid thee 
in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, 
and let us go stablish this peace in God's name.' And the 
wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb ; 
whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding. . . . 
And thereafter this same wolf lived two years in Agobio ; and 
went like a tame beast in and out the houses from door to door, 
without doing hurt to any, or any doing hurt to him, and was 
courteously nourished by the people ; and as he passed thus 
wise through the country and the houses, never did any dog 
bark behind him. At length after a two years space, brother 
wolf died of old age : whereat the townsfolk sorely grieved, sith 
marking him pass so gently through the city, they minded them 
the better of the virtue and the sanctity of St. Francis." z 

In another mystic, less familiar than St. Francis to English 
readers — Rose of Lima, the Peruvian saint — this deep sympathy 
with natural things assumed a particularly lovely form. To 
St. Rose the whole world was a holy fairyland, in which it seemed 
to her that every living thing turned its face towards Eternity 
and joined in her adoration of God. It is said in her biography 
that " when at sunrise, she passed through the garden to go 
to her retreat, she called upon nature to praise with her the 
Author of all things. Then the trees were seen to bow as she 
passed by, and clasp their leaves together, making a harmonious 
sound. The flowers swayed upon their stalks, and opened their 
blossoms that they might scent the air ; thus according to their 
manner praising God. At the same time the birds began to 
sing, and came and perched upon the hands and shoulders of 
Rose. The insects greeted her with a joyous murmur and all 
which had life and movement joined in the concert of praise she 
addressed to the Lord." 2 

Again — and here we seem to catch an echo of the pure 

1 " Fioretti," cap. xxi. (Arnold's translation). Perhaps I may be allowed to 
remind the incredulous reader that the recent discovery of a large wolfs skull in 
Gubbio, close to the spot in which Brother Wolf is said to have lived in a cave for two 
years after his taming by the Saint, has gone far to vindicate the truth of this beautiful 
story : and disconcerted those rationalistic scholars who hold that tradition can do 
little else but lie. 

2 De Bussierre, " Le Perou et Ste. Rose de Lime," p. 256. 



314 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Franciscan spirit, the gaiety of the Troubadours of God — 
during her last Lent, " each evening at sunset a little bird with 
an enchanting voice came and perched upon a tree beside her 
window, and waited till she gave the sign for him to sing. 
Rose, as soon as she saw her little feathered chorister, made 
herself ready to sing the praises of God, and challenged the 
bird to this musical duel in a song which she had composed for 
this purpose. * Begin, dear little bird,' she said, ' begin thy 
lovely song ! Let thy little throat, so full of sweet melodies, 
pour them forth : that together we may praise the Lord. Thou 
dost praise thy Creator, I my sweet Saviour : thus we together 
bless the Deity. Open thy little beak, begin and I will follow 
thee : and our voices shall blend in a song of holy joy.' 

" At once the little bird began to sing, running through his 
scale to the highest note. Then he ceased, that the saint might 
sing in her turn . . . thus did they celebrate the greatness of 
God, turn by turn, for a whole hour : and with such perfect 
order, that when the bird sang Rose said nothing, and when she 
sang in her turn the bird was silent, and listened to her with a 
marvellous attention. At last, towards the sixth hour, the saint 
dismissed him, saying, ' Go, my little chorister, go, fly far away. 
But blessed be my God who never leaves me ! ' " x 

The mystic whose illumination takes such forms as these, who 
feels with this intensity and closeness the bond of love which 
'binds in one book the scattered leaves of all the universe," 
dwells in a world for ever shut to the desirous eyes of other 
men. He pierces the veil of imperfection, and beholds Creation 
with the Creator's eye. The " Pattern is shown him in the 
Mount." " The whole consciousness," says Recejac, " is flooded 
with light to unknown depths, under the gaze of love, from 
which nothing escapes. In this state, intensity of vision and 
sureness of judgment are equal : and the things which the seer 
brings back with him when he returns to common life are not 
merely partial impressions, or the separate knowledge of * science' 
or ' poetry.' They are rather truths which embrace the world, 
life and conduct : in a word, the whole consciousness? 2 

It is curious to note in the various diagrams of experience 
which we have inherited from the more clear-sighted philo- 

1 De Bussierre, "Le Perou et Ste. Rose de Lime," p. 415. 
9 " Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 113. 

mat 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 315 

sophers and seers, indications that they have enjoyed prolonged 
or transitory periods of this higher consciousness ; described by 
R^cejac as the marriage of imaginative vision with moral tran- 
scendence. I think it at least a reasonable supposition that Plato's 
theory of Ideas owed its inception to some intuition of this kind ; 
for philosophy, though it prate of pure reason, is more often 
found to be based upon psychological experience. The Platonic 
statements as to the veritable existence of the Idea of a house, 
a table, or a bed, and other such painfully concrete and practical 
applications of the doctrine of the ideal, which have annoyed 
many metaphysicians, become explicable on such a psycho- 
logical basis. That illuminated vision in which "all things are 
made new " can afford to embrace the homeliest as well as the 
sublimest things ; and, as a matter of experience, it does do 
this, seeing all objects, as Monet saw the hayrick, as " modes of 
light." Blake said that his cottage at Felpham was a shadow 
of the angels' houses, 1 and I have already referred to the case of 
the converted Methodist who saw his horses and hogs on the 
ideal plane. 2 

Again, when Plotinus, who is known to have experienced 
ecstatic states, speaks with the assurance of an explorer of an 
" intelligible world," and asks us, " What other fire could be a 
better image of the fire which is there, than the fire which is 
here? Or what other earth than this, of the earth which is 
there ? " 3 we seem to detect behind the trappings of Neo- 
platonic philosophy a hint of the same type of first-hand 
experience. The unknown minds to whom we owe the Hebrew 
Kabalah found room for it too in their diagram of the soul's 
ascent towards Reality. The first "Sephira" above Malkuth, 
the World of Matter, or lowest plane upon that Tree of Life 
which is formed by the ten emanations of the Godhead, is, they 
say, " Yesod," the " archetypal universe." In this are contained 
the realities, patterns, or Ideas, whose shadows constitute the 
world of appearance in which we dwell. The path of the 
ascending soul upon the Tree of Life leads him first from 
Malkuth to Yesod : i.e., human consciousness in the course of 
its transcendence passes from the normal illusions of men to a 
more real perception of the world — a perception which is sym- 

1 Letters, p. 75. 2 Vide supra, p. 231. 

3 Ennead ii. 9. 



->A 



316 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

bolized by the "archetypal plane " or world of Platonic 
Ideas. " Everything in temporal nature," says William Law, 
" is descended out of that which is eternal, and stands as a 
palpable visible outbirth of it, so when we know how to separate 
the grossness, death, and darkness of time from it, we find what 
it is in its eternal state. ... In Eternal Nature, or the King- 
dom of Heaven, materiality stands in life and light ; it is the 
light's glorious Body, or that garment wherewith light is clothed, 
and therefore has all the properties of light in it, and only 
differs from light as it is its brightness and beauty, as the holder 
and displayer of all its colours, powers, and virtues." x 

When Law wrote this, he may have believed that he was 
interpreting to English readers the unique message of his 
master, Jacob Boehme. As a matter of fact he was spreading 
the news which a long line of practical mystics had been crying 
for centuries into the deaf ears of mankind. He was saying in 
the eighteenth century what Gregory of Nyssa had said in the 
fourth and Erigena in the ninth ; telling the secret of that 
" Inviolate Rose " which can never be profaned because it can 
only be seen with the eyes of love. 

This same belief in the perfect world of archetypes lurking 
behind the symbols of sense and lending them a measure of its 
reality, is discoverable in Hermetic philosophy, which is of 
course largely influenced by Kabalism. It receives practical 
application in the course of the " occult education " to which 
neophytes are subjected : a mental and moral training calcu- 
lated to induce lucid vision of this kind. Such vision — a 
by-product in true mysticism, never sought for though often 
achieved — is the end at which magic deliberately aims. 2 No 
magician was ever found capable of St. Catherine's cry, Non 
voglio quello che esce da te. 

That serene and illuminated consciousness of the relation of 
things inward and outward — of the Hidden Treasure and its 
Casket, the energizing Absolute and its expression in Time and 
Space — which we have been studying in this chapter, is at its 
best a state of fine equilibrium ; a sane adjustment of the inner 
and outer life. By that synthesis of love and will which is the 
secret of the heart, the whole world is seen and known in God, 

1 " An Appeal to All who Doubt " (Liberal and Mystical Writings of William 
Iaw, p. 52). 2 See Steiner, "The Way of Initiation," cap. v. 



THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SELF 317 

and God is seen and known in the whole world. It is a state of 
exalted emotion : being produced by love, of necessity it pro- 
duces love in its turn. The sharp division between its inlooking 
and outlooking forms which I have adopted for convenience of 
description, is seldom present in the minds of its adepts. They, 
" cleansed, fed, and sanctified," are initiated into a spiritual 
universe where such clumsy distinctions have little meaning. 
All is alike part of the " new life " of peaceful charity : and that 
progressive abolition of selfhood which is of the essence of 
mystical development, is alone enough to prevent them from 
drawing a line between the inward personal companionship and 
outward impersonal apprehension of the Real. True Illumina- 
tion, like all real and vital experience, consists rather in the 
breathing of a certain atmosphere, the living at certain levels of 
consciousness, than in the acquirement of specific information. 
It is, as it were, a resting-place upon " the steep stairway of 
love " ; where the self turns and sees all about it a transfigured 
universe, radiant with that same Light Divine which nests in its 
own heart and leads it on. 

" When man's desires are fixed immovably on his Maker 
and as for deadliness and corruption of the flesh he is letted," 
says Rolle of the purified soul which has attained the illuminated 
state, " then it is no marvel that his strength manly using, first 
as it were heaven being opened, with his understanding he 
beholds high heavenly citizens, and afterwards sweetest heat, as 
it were burning fire, he feels. Then with marvellous sweetness 
he is taught, and so forth in songful noise he is joyed. This, 
therefore, is perfect charity, which no man knows but he that 
hath it took. And he that it has taken, it never leaves : sweetly 
he lives and sickerly he shall die." * 

Sweetly, it is true, the illuminated mystic may live ; but not, 
as some think, placidly. Enlightenment is a symptom of 
growth : and growth is a living process, which knows no rest. 
The spirit, indeed, is invaded by a heavenly peace ; but it is 
the peace, not of idleness, but of ordered activity. " A rest 
most busy," in Hilton's words : a progressive appropriation of 
the Divine. The urgent push of an indwelling spirit aspiring 
to its home in the heart of Reality is felt more and more, as the 
invasion of the normal consciousness by the transcendental 
1 Rolle, " The Fire of Love," bk. i. cap. xx. 



318 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

personality — the growth of the New Man — proceeds toward* 
its term. 

Therefore the great seekers for reality are not as a rule long 
deceived by the exalted joys of Illumination. Intensely aware 
now of the Absolute Whom they adore, they are aware too that 
though known He is unachieved. Even whilst they enjoy the 
rapture of the Divine Presence — of life in a divine, ideal world 
— something, they feel, makes default. Sol voglio Te, O dolce 
Amore. Hence for them that which they now enjoy, and which 
passes the understanding of other men, is not a static con- 
dition ; often it coexists with that travail of the heart which 
Tauler has called " stormy love." The greater the mystic, the 
sooner he realizes that the Heavenly Manna which has been 
administered to him is not yet That with which the angels are 
full fed. Nothing less will do : and for him the progress of 
illumination is a progressive consciousness that he is destined 
not for the sunny shores of the spiritual universe, but for " the 
vast and stormy sea of the divine." 

" Here," says Ruysbroeck of the soul which has been lit by 
the Uncreated Light, " there begins an eternal hunger, which 
shall never more be satisfied. It is the inward eagerness and 
aspiration of the affective powers and created spirit towards an 
Uncreated Good. And as the spirit desires fruition, and is 
indeed invited and urged thereto by God, she continually wishes 
to attain it. Behold ! here begin the eternal aspiration and 
eternal effort, of an eternal helplessness ! These men are poor 
indeed : for they are hungry, greedy, insatiable ! Whatsoever 
they eat and drink they cannot be satisfied, since theirs is the 
hunger of eternity. . . . Here there are great feasts of food and 
drink, of which none know but those who are bidden ; but the 
full satisfaction of fruition is the one dish that lacks them, and 
this is why their hunger is ever renewed. Nevertheless there 
flow in this communion rivers of honey full of all delight ; for 
the spirit tastes of these delights under every mode that can be 
conceived. But all this is according to the manner of the 
creatures, and is below God : and this is why there is here an 
eternal hunger and impatience. If God gave to man all the 
gifts which all the saints possess, and all that He has to offer, 
but without giving Himself, the craving spirit would remain 
hungry and unfulfilled." z 

1 " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. ii. cap. liii. 






CHAPTER V 



VOICES AND VISIONS 

This is a controversial subject — Rationalism and Orthodoxy — Both extreme in 
their conclusions — Literal interpretation fatal to vision — Every kind of automatism is 
found in the mystic life— Cannot be neglected by its investigators — Visions may often 
be merely subjective — but sometimes embody transcendental perceptions — Some test 
necessary — Real mystic vision enhances life — Most visionary activity mixed in type — 
Is always symbolic in character — A form of artistic expression — Automatisms char- 
acteristic of all creative genius — Mystic visions and voices are helps to transcendence 
— related to life — Delacroix — Audition — the simplest form of automatism— Three 
kinds of auditions — the Intellectual Word — Madame Guyon — Distinct interior 
words — St. Teresa — False auditions — St. John of the Cross — Character of the true 
audition — St. Teresa — Exterior words — Musical audition— Suso — Divine dialogues — 
Vision — its general character — Most mystics distrust it — Hilton — St. John of the 
Cross — Madame Guyon — Three classes of vision : intellectual, imaginary, and cor- 
poreal — Intellectual vision — its character — St. Teresa — Imaginary vision — it exists 
in all poets — Its two forms — Symbolic visions — Suso — Dante — St. Mechthild of 
Hackborn — Visions of Divine Personality — St. Teresa's vision of Christ — its tran- 
scendental nature — Active imaginary visions— their character — The mystic marriage 
of St. Catherine — Transverberation of St. Teresa — Automatic writing in the mystics 
— St. Catherine of Siena — Blake — St. Teresa — Madame Guyon — Tacob Boehme — 
Conclusion 

WE now come to that eternal battle-ground, the detailed 
discussion of those abnormal psychic phenomena 
which appear so persistently in the history of the 
mystics. That is to say, visions, auditions, automatic script, 
and those dramatic dialogues between the Self and some other 
factor — the Soul, Love, Reason, or the Voice of God — which 
seem sometimes to arise from an exalted and uncontrolled 
imaginative power, sometimes to attain the proportions of 
auditory hallucination. 

Here, moderate persons are like to be hewn in pieces 
between the two "great powers" who have long disputed this 
territory and agreeably occupied their leisure by tearing out 
each other's hair. On the one hand we have the strangely 

319 



320 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 



:ter 



named rationalists, who feel that they have settled the mat 
once for all by calling attention to the undoubted parallels 
which exist between the bodily symptoms of acute spiritual 
stress and the bodily symptoms of certain forms of disease. 
These considerations, reinforced by those comfortable words 
"auto-suggestion" and " psychosensorial hallucination " — which 
do but reintroduce mystery in another and less attractive form 
— enable them to pity rather than blame the peculiarities of the 
great contemplatives. Modern French psychology, in particu- 
lar, revels in this sort of thing : and would, if it had its way, 
fill the wards of the Salpetriere with patients from the Roman 
Calendar. The modern interpreter, says Rufus Jones, finds in 
the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi a point of weakness rather 
than a point of strength : not " the marks of a saint," but " the 
marks of emotional and physical abnormality." x This is a very 
moderate statement of the " rational " position, by a writer who 
is in actual sympathy with certain aspects of mysticism. Yet 
it may well be doubted whether that flame of living love which 
could, for one dazzling instant, weld body and soul in one, was 
really a point of weakness in a saint : whether Blake was quite 
as mad as some of his interpreters, or the powers of St. Paul 
and St. Teresa are fully explained on a basis of epilepsy or 
hysteria : whether, finally, it is as scientific as it looks, to lump 
together all visions and voices — from Wandering Willy to the 
Apocalypse of St. John — as examples of unhealthy cerebral 
activity. 

As against all this, the intransigeant votaries of the super- 
natural seem determined to play into the hands of their foes. 
They pin themselves, for no apparent reason, to the objective 
reality and absolute value of visions, voices, and other experi- 
ences which would be classed, in any other department of life, 
as the harmless results of a vivid imagination : and claim as 
examples of miraculous interference with " natural law " psychic 
phenomena which may well be the normal if rare methods by 
which a certain type of intuitive genius actualizes its perceptions 
of the spiritual world. 2 

1 "Studies in Mystical Religion," p. 165. Those who wish to study the 
"rationalist " argument in an extreme form are directed to the works of Prof. Janet, 
particularly " L'Automatisme psychologique " and " L'Etat mentale des hysteriques." 

2 On the difference in this respect between the "normal" and the "average," see 
Granger, "The Soul of a Christian," p. 12. 






VOICES AND VISIONS 321 

Materialistic piety of this kind, which would have us believe 
that St. Anthony of Padua really held the Infant Christ in his 
arms, and that the Holy Ghost truly told the Blessed Angela of 
Foligno that He loved her better than any other woman in the 
Vale of Spoleto, and she knew Him more intimately than 
the Apostles themselves, 1 is the best friend the "rationalists" 
possess. It turns dreams into miracles and miracles into 
dreams ; and drags down the symbolic visions of genius to the 
level of pious hallucination. Even the profound and beautiful 
significance of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's vision of the 
Sacred Heart — a pictured expression of one of the deepest 
intuitions of the human soul caught up to the contemplation of 
God's love — has been impaired by the grossly material inter- 
pretation which it has been forced to bear. So, too, the beautiful 
reveries of Suso, the divine visitations experienced by Francis, 
Catherine, Teresa and countless other saints, have been degraded 
in the course of their supposed elevation to the sphere called 
" supernatural " — a process as fatal to their truth and beauty as 
the stuffing of birds. 2 

All this, too, is done in defiance of the great mystics them- 
selves, who are unanimous in warning their disciples against the 
danger of attributing too much importance to "visions" and 
" voices," or accepting them at their face value as messages from 
God. Nevertheless, these visions and voices are such frequent 
accompaniments of the mystic life, that they cannot be left on 
one side. The messengers of the invisible world knock per- 
sistently at the doors of the senses : and not only at those which 
we refer to hearing and to sight. In other words, supersensual 
intuitions — the contact between man's finite being and the 
Infinite Being in which it is immersed — can express themselves 
by means of almost any kind of sensory automatism. Strange 
sweet perfumes and tastes, physical sensations of touch, inward 

1 See B. Angelae de Fulginio, "Visionum et Instructionum Liber," cap. 1. 
(English translation, p. 245). 

9 Poulain, " Les Graces d'Oraison," cap. xx., and Ribet's elaborate work, " La 
Mystique Divine," well represent the " supernaturalist " position. As against the 
"rationalistic" theory of stigmatization already described, one feels that this last- 
named writer hardly advances his own cause when he insists on attributing equal 
validity (a) to the Stigmata as marks of the Divine, (6) to the imprint of a toad, bat, 
spider "ou de tout autre objet exprimant l'abjection" on the bodies of those who 
have had commerce with the devil (tome iii, p. 482). 
y 



322 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

fires, are reported over and over again in connection with such 
spiritual adventures. 1 Those symbols under which the mystic 
tends to approach the Absolute easily become objectivized, and 
present themselves to the consciousness as parts of experience, 
rather than as modes of interpretation. The knowledge which 
is obtained in such an approach is wholly transcendental. It 
consists in an undifferentiated act of the whole consciousness, in 
which under the spur of love life draws near to Life. Thought, 
feeling, vision, touch — all are hopelessly inadequate to it: yet 
all, perhaps, may hint at that intense perception of which they 
are the scattered parts. " And we shall endlessly be all had in 
God," says Julian of this supreme experience, " Him verily 
seeing and fully feeling, Him spiritually hearing and Him 
delectably smelling and sweetly swallowing." 2 

All those so-called "hallucinations of the senses" which 
appear in the history of mysticism must, then, be considered 
soberly, frankly, and without prejudice in the course of our 
inquiry into the psychology of man's quest of the Real. The 
question for their critics must really be this : do these automa- 
tisms, which appear so persistently as a part of the contempla- 
tive life, represent merely the dreams and fancies, the old 
digested percepts of the visionary, objectivized and presented 
to his surface-mind in a concrete form ; or, are they ever repre- 
sentations — symbolic, if you like — of some fact, force, or per- 
sonality, some " triumphing spiritual power," external to himself? 
Is the vision only a pictured thought : or, is it the violent effort 
of the self to translate something impressed upon its deeper 
being, some message received from without,3 which projects this 
sharp image and places it before the consciousness ? 

The answer seems to be that the voice or vision may be 
either of these two things : and that pathology and religion 
have both been over-hasty in their eagerness to snatch at these 
phenomena for their own purposes. Many — perhaps most — 
voices do but give the answer which the subject has already 

1 Vide infra, quotations from Hilton and St. John of the Cross. Also Rolle, 
" The Fire of Love," Prologue. E. Gardner, " St. Catherine of Siena," p. 15. Von 
Httgel, "The Mystical Element in Religion," vol. i. pp. 178-181. 

3 " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. xliii. I have restored the bold language of 
the original, which is somewhat toned down in modern versions. 

3 Here as elsewhere the reader will kindly recollect that all spatial language is 
merely symbolic when used in connection with spiritual states. 






VOICES AND VISIONS 323 

suggested to itself; 1 many — perhaps most — visions are the pic- 
turings of dreams and desires. 2 Some are morbid hallucina- 
tions: some even symptoms of insanity. All, probably, borrow 
their shape, as apart from their content, from suggestions already 
present in the mind of the seer. 

But there are some, experienced by minds of great power 
and richness, which are crucial for those who have them. These 
bring wisdom to the simple and ignorant, sudden calm to those 
who were tormented by doubts. They flood the personality 
with new light : accompany conversion, or the passage from one 
spiritual state to another : arrive at moments of indecision, 
bringing with them authoritative commands or counsels opposed 
to the inclination of the self: confer a convinced knowledge of 
some department of the spiritual life before unknown. Such 
visions, it is clear, belong to another and higher plane of expe- 
rience from the radiant appearances of our Lady, the piteous 
exhibitions of the sufferings of Christ, which swarm in the lives 
of the saints and contain no feature which is not traceable to 
the subject's religious enthusiasms or previous knowledge.3 
These, in the apt phrase of Godfernaux, are but " images float- 
ing on the moving deeps of feeling," 4 not symbolic messages from 
another plane of consciousness. Some test, then, must be 
applied, some basis of classification discovered, if we are to 
distinguish the visions and voices which seem to be symptoms 
of real transcendental activity from those which are only due to 
imagination raised to the nth power, to intense reverie, or even 
to psychic illness. That test, I think, must be the same as 
that which we shall find useful for ecstatic states ; namely, their 
life-enhancing quality. 

Those visions and voices which are the media by which the 
"seeing self" truly approaches the Absolute; which are the 

1 For instance, when Margaret Ebner, the celebrated " Friend of God," heard a 
voice telling her that Tauler, who was the object of great veneration in the circle to 
which she belonged, was the man whom God loved best, and that He dwelt in him 
like melodious music (see Rufus Jones, op. cit., p. 257). 

3 " There are persons to be met with," says St. Teresa, " and I have known them 
myself, who have so feeble a brain and imagination that they think they see whatever 
they are thinking about, and this is a very dangerous condition " (" El Castillo Interior," 
Moradas Cuartas, cap. iii.). 

3 The book of Angela of Foligno, already cited, contains a rich series of examples. 

* " Sur la psychologic du Mysricisme " {Revue Philosophique, February, 1902). 



324 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

formulae under which ontological perceptions are expressed ; are 
found by that self to be sources of helpful energy, charity, and 
courage. They infuse something new in the way of strength, 
knowledge, direction ; and leave it — physically, mentally, or 
spiritually — better than they found it. Those which do not 
owe their inception to the contact of the soul with external 
reality — in theological language do not " come from God " — do 
not have this effect. At best, they are but the results of the 
self s turning over of her treasures : at worst, they are the 
dreams — sometimes the diseased dreams — of an active, rich, 
but imperfectly controlled subliminal consciousness. 

Since it is implicit in the make-up of the mystical tempera- 
ment, that the subliminal consciousness should be active and 
rich — and since the unstable nervous organization which goes 
with it renders it liable to illness and exhaustion — it is not 
surprising to find that the visionary experience even of the 
greatest mystics is mixed in type. Once automatism has 
established itself in a person, it may as easily become the 
expression of folly as of wisdom. In the moments when inspira- 
tion has ebbed, old forgotten superstitions may take its place. 
When Julian of Norwich in her illness saw the " horrible showing" 
of the Fiend, red with black freckles, which clutched at her 
throat with its paws : * when St Teresa was visited by Satan, who 
left a smell of brimstone behind, or when she saw him sitting 
on the top of her breviary and dislodged him by the use of holy 
water, 2 it is surely reasonable to allow that we are in the 
presence of visions which tend towards the psychopathic type : 
and which are expressive of little else but an exhaustion and 
temporary loss of balance on the subject's part, which allowed 
her intense consciousness of the reality of evil to assume a 
concrete form.3 

Because we allow this, however, it does not follow that all 
the visionary experience of such a subject is morbid : any more 
than "CEdipus Tyrannus" invalidates " Prometheus Unbound," 

1 " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lxvi. 2 Vida, cap. xxxi. §§ 5 and 10. 

3 Thus too in the case of St. Catherine of Siena, the intense spiritual strain of that 
three years' retreat which I have already described {supra, Pt. II. Cap. I.) showed 
itself towards the end of the period by a change in the character of her visions. 
These, which had previously been wholly concerned with intuitions of the good and 
beautiful, now took on an evil aspect and greatly distressed her (Vita (Acta SS.), 
i. xi. 1 j see E. Gardner, " St. Catherine of Siena," p. 20). 

A , 









VOICES AND VISIONS 325 

or occasional attacks of dyspepsia invalidate the whole process 
of nutrition. The perceptive power and creative genius of 
mystics, as of other great artists, sometimes goes astray. That 
visions or voices should sometimes be the means by which the 
soul consciously assimilates the nourishment it needs, is con- 
ceivable : it is surely also conceivable that by the same means 
it may present to the surface-intelligence things which are 
productive of unhealthy rather than of healthy reactions. 

If we would cease, once for all, to regard visions and voices 
as objective, and be content to see in them forms of symbolic 
expression, ways in which the subconscious activity of the 
spiritual self reaches the surface-mind, many of the dis- 
harmonies noticeable in visionary experience, which have 
teased the devout, and delighted the agnostic, would fade 
away. Visionary experience is — or at least may be — the 
outward sign of a real experience. It is a picture which 
the mind constructs, it is true, from raw materials already at 
its disposal : as the artist constructs his picture with canvas 
and paint. But, as the artist's paint and canvas picture is the 
fruit, not merely of contact between brush and canvas, but also 
of a more vital contact between his creative genius and visible 
beauty or truth ; so too we may see in vision, where the subject 
is a mystic, the fruit of a more mysterious contact between the 
visionary and a transcendental beauty or truth. Such a vision, 
that is to say, is the " accident " which represents and enshrines 
a " substance " unseen : the paint and canvas picture which 
tries to show the surface consciousness that ineffable sight, 
that ecstatic perception of good or evil — for neither extreme has 
the monopoly — to which the deeper, more real soul has attained. 
The transcendental powers take for this purpose such material 
as they can find amongst the hoarded beliefs and memories of 
the self. 1 Hence Plotinus sees the Celestial Venus, Suso the 

1 An excellent example of such appropriation of material is related with apparent 
good faith by Huysmans (" Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam," p. 258): "Lydwine 
found again in heaven those forms of adoration, those ceremonial practices of the 
divine office, which she had known here below during her years of health. The 
Church Militant had been, in fact, initiated by the inspiration of its apostles, its 
popes, and its saints into the liturgic joys of Paradise." In this same vision, which 
occurred on Christmas Eve, when the hour of the Nativity was rung from the belfries 
of heaven, the Divine Child appeared on His Mother's knee : just as the creche is 
exhibited in Catholic churches the moment that Christmas has dawned. 



326 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Eternal Wisdom, St. Teresa the Humanity of Christ, Blake 
the strange personages of his prophetic books : others more 
obviously symbolic objects. St. Ignatius Loyola, for instance, 
in a moment of lucidity, " saw the most Holy Trinity as it were 
under the likeness of a triple plectrum or of three spinet keys " 
and on another occasion " the Blessed Virgin without distinction 
of members." x 

Visions and voices, then, may stand in the same relation to 
the mystic as pictures, poems, and musical compositions stand to 
the great painter, poet, musician. They are the artistic ex- 
pressions and creative results (a) of thought, (b) of intuition, 
(c) of direct perception. All would be ready to acknowledge 
how conventional and imperfect of necessity are those tran- 
scripts of perceived Goodness, Truth, and Beauty which we 
owe to artistic genius : how unequal is their relation to reality. 
But this is not to say that they are valueless or absurd. So too 
with the mystic, whose proceedings in this respect are closer to 
those of the artist than is generally acknowledged. In both 
types there is a constant and involuntary work of translation 
going on, by which Reality is interpreted in the terms of 
appearance. In both, a peculiar mental make-up conduces to 
this result. 

In these subjects, the state of reverie tends easily to a 
visionary character: thought becomes pictorial, auditory or 
rhythmic as the case may be. Concrete images, balanced 
harmonies, elusive yet recognizable, surge up mysteriously 
without the intervention of the will, and place themselves 
before the mind. Thus the painter really sees his unpainted 
picture, the novelist hears the conversation of his characters, 
the poet receives his cadences ready-made, the musician listens 
to a veritable music which " pipes to the spirit ditties of no 
tone." In the mystic, the same type of activity constantly 
appears. Profound meditation takes a pictorial form. Apt 
symbols which suggest themselves to his imagination become 
objectivized. The message that he longs for is heard within 
his mind. Hence, those " interior voices " and " imaginary 
visions" which are sometimes — as in Suso — indistinguishable 
from the ordinary accompaniments of intense artistic activity. 

Where, however, artistic ' automatisms " spend themselves 
1 Testament, cap. iii. 






VOICES AND VISIONS 327 

upon the artists work, mystical "automatisms " in their highest 
forms have to do with that transformation of personality which 
is the essence of the mystic life. They are media by which the 
self measures its approximation to the Absolute and is guided 
on its upward way. Moreover, they are co-ordinated. The 
voice and the vision go together : corroborate one another, 
and " work out right " in relation to the life of the self. Thus 
St. Catherine of Siena's " mystic marriage " was prefaced by a 
voice, which ever said in answer to her prayers, " I will espouse 
thee to Myself in faith " ; and the vision in which that union 
was consummated was again initiated by a voice saying, " I will 
this day celebrate solemnly with thee the feast of the betrothal 
of thy soul, and even as I promised I will espouse thee to 
Myself in faith." * " Such automatisms as these," says Dela- 
croix, " are by no means scattered and incoherent. They arc 
systematic and progressive : they are governed by an interior 
aim ; they have, above all, a teleological character. They 
indicate the continuous intervention of a being at once wiser 
and more powerful than the ordinary character and reason ; 
they are the realization, in visual and auditory images, of a secret 
and permanent personality of a superior type to the conscious 
personality. They are its voice, the exterior projection of its 
life. They translate to the conscious personality the sug- 
gestions of the subconscious : and they permit the con- 
tinuous penetration of the conscious personality by these 
deeper activities. They establish a communication between 
these two planes of existence, and, by their imperative nature, 
they tend to make the inferior subordinate to the superior." 2 

Audition 

The simplest and as a rule the first way in which auto- 
matism shows itself, is in " voices " or auditions. The mystic 
becomes aware of Something which speaks to him either 
clearly or implicitly, giving him abrupt and unexpected 
orders and encouragements. The reality of his contact with 
the Divine Life is thus brought home to him by a device 
with which the accidents of human intercourse have made him 

1 E. Gardner, "St. Catherine of Siena," p. 25. 
9 Delacroix, "Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 114. 



328 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

familiar. His subliminal mind, soaked as it now is in tran- 
scendental perceptions, "at one with the Absolute," irradiated 
by the Uncreated Light, but still dissociated from the surface 
intelligence which it is slowly educating, seems to that surface 
self like another being. Hence its messages are often heard, 
literally, as Voices: either (i) the " immediate " or inarticulate 
voice, which the auditive mystic knows so well, but finds it so 
difficult to define ; (2) the distinct interior voice, perfectly 
articulate, but recognized as speaking only within the mind ; 
(3) by a hallucination which we have all experienced in dream 
or reverie, the exterior voice, which appears to be speaking 
externally to the subject and to be heard by the outward 
ear. This, the traditional classification of auditions, also 
answers exactly to the three main types of vision — (1) intellec- 
tual, (2) imaginary, (3) corporeal. 

Of these three kinds of voices the mystics are unanimous in 
their opinion that the first and least " marvellous " is by far the 
best : belonging indeed to an entirely different plane of con- 
sciousness from the uttered interior or exterior " word." 
"Distinct interior words," says Madame Guyon, "are very 
subject to illusion. The Devil is responsible for many of 
them : and when they come from our good angel (for God 
Himself never speaks in this manner) they do not always 
mean that which they say, and one seldom finds that what 
is thus predicted comes to pass. For when God causes words 
of this kind to be brought to us by His angels, He understands 
them in His way, and we take them in ours, and this it is which 
deceives us. The word which God speaks without interme- 
diary is no other than His WORD [Logos] in the soul : a 
substantial word, silent and inarticulate, a vivifying and 
energizing word ; as has been said, dixit et facta sunt. This 
word is never for a moment dumb nor sterile : this word is 
heard ceaselessly in the centre of the soul which is disposed 
thereto, and returns to its Principle as pure as when it came 
forth therefrom." x 

" Let Thy good Spirit enter my heart and there be heard 
without utterance, and without the sound of words speak all 
truth," says a prayer attributed to St. Ambrose, 2 exactly descri- 

1 Vie, pt. i. cap. ix. 

2 Missale Romanum. Praeparatio ad Missam ; Die Dominica. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 329 

bing the function of these unmediated or " intellectual words." 
Dynamic messages of this kind, imperative intuitions which 
elude the containing formulae of speech, are invariably attributed 
by the self to the direct action of the Divine. They bring with 
them an unquestionable authority, an infusion of new knowledge 
or new life. They are, in fact, not messages but actual " inva- 
sions " from beyond the threshold : sudden emergences of that 
hidden Child of the Absolute which mystics call the "spark of 
the soul " and of which it has been truly said, " Abyssus abyssum 
invocat" 

" Distinct interior words," on the other hand, are not invari- 
ably authoritative for those who hear them : though St. Teresa, 
whose brilliant self-criticisms are our best source of information 
on mystical auditions, gives to them a higher place in spiritual 
experience than Madame Guyon's devotion to " naked orison " 
will permit her to do. She, too, considers that, though they 
"come from God," they are not due to direct contact with the 
Divine : but that they may be distinguished from those 
" words " which result merely from voluntary activity of the 
imagination as much by the sense of certitude, peace and 
interior joy which they produce, as by the fact that they force 
themselves upon the attention in spite of its resistance, and 
bring with them knowledge which was not previously within 
the field of consciousness. That is to say, they are really 
automatic presentations of the result of mystic intuition, not 
mere rearrangements of the constituents of thought. 1 Hence 
they bring to the surface-self new material : have an actual 
value for life. 

Those purely self-created locutions, or rearrangements of 
thought " which the mind self-recollected forms and fashions 
within itself" — often difficult to distinguish from true automatic 
audition — are called by Philip of the Trinity, St. John of the 
Cross and other mystical theologians " successive words." 
They feel it to be of the highest importance that the con- 
templative should learn to distinguish such hallucinations 
from real transcendental perceptions presented in auditive 
form. 

" I am terrified," says St. John of the Cross, with his 
customary blunt common sense, " by what passes among us in 

x " El Castillo Interior," Moradas Sextas, cap. iii. 



330 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

these days. Anyone who has barely begun to meditate, if he 
becomes conscious of these words during his self-recollection, 
pronounces them forthwith to be the work of God, and, con- 
sidering them to be so, says, ' God has spoken to me,' or, ' I 
have had an answer from God.' But it is not true : such an one 
has only been speaking to himself. Besides, the affection and 
desire for these words, which men encourage, cause them to 
reply to themselves and then to imagine that God has spoken." x 
These are the words of one who was at once the sanest of saints 
and the most penetrating of psychologists : words which our 
modern unruly amateurs of the " subconscious " might well 
take to heart. 

True auditions are usually heard when the mind is in a 
state of deep absorption without conscious thought : that is to 
say, at the most favourable of all moments for contact with the 
transcendental world. They translate into articulate language 
some aspect of that ineffable apprehension of Reality which the 
contemplative enjoys : crystallize those clairvoyant intuitions, 
those prophetic hints which surge in on him so soon as he lays 
himself open to the influence of the supra-sensible. Sometimes, 
however, mystical intuition takes the form of a sudden and 
ungovernable uprush of knowledge from the deeps of person- 
ality. Then, auditions may break in upon the normal activities 
of the self with startling abruptness. It is in such cases that 
their objective and uncontrollable character is most sharply 
felt. However they may appear, they are, says St. Teresa, 
" very distinctly formed ; but by the bodily ear they are not 
heard. They are, 'however, much more clearly understood than 
if they were heard by the ear. It is impossible not to under- 
stand them, whatever resistance we may offer. . . . The words 
formed by the understanding effect nothing, but when our Lord 
speaks, it is at once word and work. . . . The human locution \i.e. y 
the work of imagination] is as something we cannot well make 
out, as if we were half asleep : but the divine locution is a voice 
so clear, that not a syllable of its utterance is lost. It may 
occur, too, when the understanding and the soul are so troubled 
and distracted that they cannot form one sentence correctly : 
and yet grand sentences, perfectly arranged, such as the soul 
in its most recollected state never could have formed, 

1 " Subidadel Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. xxix. 4. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 331 

are uttered: and at the first word, as I have said, change it 
utterly." J 

St. Teresa's whole mystic life was governed by voices : her 
active career as a foundress was guided by them. They advised 
her in small things as in great. Often they interfered with her 
plans, ran counter to her personal judgment, forbade a founda- 
tion on which she was set, or commanded one which appeared 
imprudent or impossible. They concerned themselves with 
journeys, with the purchase of houses ; they warned her of 
coming events. 2 She seldom resisted them, though it con- 
stantly happened that the action on which they insisted seemed 
the height of folly : and though they frequently involved her in 
hardships and difficulties, she never had cause to regret this 
blind reliance upon decrees which she regarded as coming 
direct from God, and which certainly did emanate from a life 
greater than her own, in touch with transcendent levels of 
consciousness. 

So far from mere vague intuitions are the " distinct interior 
words n which the mystic hears within his mind, that Suso is 
able to state that the hundred meditations on the Passion thus 
revealed to him were spoken in German and not in Latin.3 St. 
Teresa's own auditions were all of this interior kind — some 
11 distinct " and some " substantial " or inarticulate — as her 
corresponding visions were nearly all of the " intellectual " or 
" imaginary " sort : that is to say, she was not subject to sensible 
hallucination. Often, however, the boundary is overpassed, and 
the locution seems to be heard by the mystic's outward ear, as 
in the case of those voices which guided the destinies of the 
Blessed Joan of Arc, or the Figure upon the Cross which spoke 
to St. Francis of Assisi. We then have the third form — 
" exterior words " — which the mystics for the most part regard 
with suspicion and dislike. 

Sometimes audition assumes a musical rather than a verbal 
character : a form of perception which probably corresponds to 
the temperamental bias of the self, the ordered sweetness of 
Divine Harmony striking responsive chords in the music-loving 

1 Vida, cap. xxv. §§ 2, 5, 6. See also for a detailed discussion of all forms of 
auditions St. John of the Cross, op. cit., 1. ii. caps, xxviii. to xxxi. 

2 " El Libro de las Fundaciones " is full of instances. 

3 Suso, " Buchlein von der ewigen Weisheit," Prologue. 



332 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

soul. The lives of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, 
and Richard Rolle provide obvious instances of this * : but 
Suso, in whom automatism assumed its richest and most varied 
forms, has also given in his autobiography some characteristic 
examples. 

" One day . . . whilst the Servitor was still at rest, he heard 
within himself a gracious melody by which his heart was greatly 
moved. And at the moment of the rising of the morning star, 
a deep sweet voice sang within him these words, Stella Maria 
maris, hodie processit ad ortum. That is to say, Mary Star of 
the Sea is risen to-day. And this song which he heard was so 
spiritual and so sweet, that his soul was transported by it and 
he too began to sing joyously. . . . And one day — it was in 
carnival time — the Servitor had continued his prayers until the 
moment when the bugle of the watch announced the dawn. 
Therefore, he said to himself, Rest for an instant, before you 
salute the shining Morning Star. And, whilst that his senses 
were at rest, behold ! angelic spirits began to sing the fair 
Respond : \ Illuminare, illuminare, Jerusalem ! ' And this song 
was echoed with a marvellous sweetness in the deeps of his soul. 
And when the angels had sung for some time his soul over- 
flowed with joy : and his feeble body being unable to support 
such happiness, burning tears escaped from his eyes." 2 

Closely connected on' the one hand with the phenomena of 
automatic words, on the other with those of prophecy and 
inspiration, is the prevalence in mystical literature of revelations 
which take the form of dialogue : of intimate colloquies between 
Divine Reality and the Soul. The Revelations of Julian of 
Norwich and St. Catherine of Siena, and many of those of the 
Blessed Angela of Foligno, appear to have been received by 
them in this way. We seem as we read them to be present at 
the outpourings of the Divine Mind, snatching at some form of 
words on Its way through the human consciousness. We feel 
on the one hand a " one-ness with the Absolute " on the part of 
the mystic which has made her really, for the time being, the 
" voice of God " : whilst on the other we recognize in her the 
persistence of the individual, exalted but not yet wholly absorbed 

1 "Fioretti," " Delle Istimate " 2. E. Gardner, " St. Catherine of Siena," p. 15. 
Rolle, " The Fire of Love," bk. i. cap. xvi. 
3 Leben, cap. vi. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 333 

in the Divine, whose questions, here and there, break in upon 
the revelation which is mediated to it by its deeper mind. 

Duologues of this sort are reported with every appear- 
ance of realism and good faith by Suso, Tauler, Mechthild of 
Magdeburg, Angela of Foligno, St. Teresa, and countless 
other mystics. The third book of the "Imitation of Christ" 
contains some conspicuously beautiful examples, which may 
or may not be due to literary artifice. The self, wholly 
obsessed by the intimate sense of divine companionship, 
receives its messages in the form of " distinct interior words " ; 
as of an alien voice, speaking within the mind with such an 
accent of validity and spontaneity as to leave no room for 
doubt as to its character. Often, as in Julian's Revelations, 
the discourses of the " Divine Voice," its replies to the eager 
questions of the self, are illustrated by imaginary visions. 
Since these dialogues are, on the whole, more commonly 
experienced in the illuminated than the unitive part of the 
Mystic Way, that self — retaining a clear consciousness of its 
own separateness, and recognizing the Voice as personal and 
distinct from its own soul — naturally enters into a communion 
which has an almost conversational character, replies to ques- 
tions or asks others in its turn : and in this dramatic style the 
content of its intuitions is gradually expressed. We have 
then an extreme form of that dissociation which we all experi- 
ence in a slight degree when we " argue with ourselves." But 
in this case one of the speakers is become the instrument of a 
power other than itself, and communicates to the mind new 
wisdom and new life. 

The peculiar rhythmical language of genuine mystic dia- 
logue of this kind — for often enough, as in Suso's " Book of the 
Eternal Wisdom," it is deliberately adopted as a literary device 
— is an indication of its automatic character. 1 Expression, 
once it is divorced from the critical action of the surface intelli- 
gence, always tends to assume a dithyrambic form. Measure 
and colour, exaltation of language, here take a more important 
place than the analytic intellect will generally permit. This 
feature is easily observable in prophecy, and in automatic 
writing. It forms an interesting link with poetry which — in 
so far as it is genuine and spontaneous — is largely the result 

1 Compare p. 95. 



334 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of subliminal activity. Life, which eludes language, can yet — 
we know not why — be communicated by rhythm : and the 
mystic fact is above all else the communication of a greater 
Life. Hence we must not take it amiss if the voice of the 
Absolute, as translated to us by those mystics who are alone 
capable of hearing it, often seems to adopt the "grand 
manner." 

Vision 

Let us pass now from the effort of man's deeper mind to 
speak truth to his surface-intelligence, to the effort of the same 
mysterious power to show truth : in psychological language, 
from auditory to visual automatism. " Vision," that vaguest of 
words, has been used by the friends and enemies of the mystics 
to describe or obscure a wide range of experience : from form- 
less intuition, through crude optical hallucination, to the volun- 
tary visualizations common to the artistic mind. In it we must 
include that personal and secret vision which is the lover's 
glimpse of Perfect Love, and the great pictures seen by clair- 
voyant prophets acting in their capacity as eyes of the race. 
Of these, the two main classes of vision, says Denis the Car- 
thusian, the first kind are to be concealed, the second declared. 
The first are more truly mystic, the second are more prophetic 
in type. Even so, and ruling out prophetic vision from our 
inquiry, a sufficient variety of experience remains in the purely 
mystical class. St. Teresa's fluid and formless apprehension of 
the Trinity, her concrete visions of Christ, Mechthild of Magde- 
burg's poetic dreams, Suso's sharply pictured allegories, even 
Blake's soul of a flea, all come under this head. 

Now since no one can know much of what it is really like 
to have a vision but the visionaries themselves, it will be inter- 
esting to see what they have to say on this subject : and to 
notice the respects in which their self-criticisms agree with the 
conclusions of psychology. We forget, whilst arguing indus- 
triously on these matters, that it is really as impossible for 
those who have never experienced a voice or vision to discuss 
it with intelligence, as it is for stay-at-homes to discuss the 
passions of the battle-field on the materials supplied by war 
correspondents. No second-hand account of a vision can truly 
report the experience of the person whose perceptions or 



VOICES AND VISIONS 335 

illusions present themselves in this form. " We cannot," says 
R6cejac, " remind ourselves too often that the mystic act con- 
sists in relations between the Absolute and Freedom which are 
incommunicable. We shall never know, for instance, what was 
the state of consciousness of some citizen of the antique world 
when he gave himself without reserve to the inspiring sugges- 
tions of the Sacred Fire or some other image which evoked 
the infinite." 1 Neither shall we ever know, unless it be our 
good fortune to attain to it, the secret of that consciousness 
which is able to apprehend the Transcendent in visionary 
terms. 

The first thing we notice when we come to this inquiry is 
that the mystics are all but unanimous in their refusal to 
attribute importance to any kind of visionary experience. 2 The 
natural timidity and stern self-criticism with which they 
approach auditions is here greatly increased : and this, if taken 
to heart, might well give pause to their more extreme enemies 
and defenders. " If it be so," says Hilton of automatisms in 
general, " that thou see any manner of light or brightness with 
thy bodily eye or in imagination, other than every man seeth ; 
or if thou hear any pleasant wonderful sounding with thy ear, 
or in thy mouth any sweet sudden savour, other than what thou 
knowest to be natural, or any heat in thy breast like fire, or 
any manner of delight in any part of thy body, or if a spirit 
appears bodily to thee as it were an angel to comfort thee or 
teach thee ; or if any such feeling, which thou knowest well 
that it cometh not of thyself, nor from any bodily creature, 
beware in that time or soon after, and wisely consider the 
stirrings of thy heart ; for if by occasion of the pleasure and 
liking thou takest in the said feeling or vision thou feelest thy 
heart drawn . . . from the inward desire of virtues and of 
spiritual knowing and feeling of God, for to set the sight of thy 
heart and thy affection, thy delight and thy rest, principally in 
the said feelings or visions, supposing that to be a part of 

1 " Les Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 149. 

2 Here, as on other points, the exception which proves the rule is Blake. But 
Blake's visions differed in some important respects from those of his fellow-mystics ; 
they were "corporeal," not "imaginary" in type, and do not so much represent 
visualized intuitions as actual and constant perceptions of the inhabitants of that 
"real and eternal world" in which he held that it was man's privilege to dwell. 



336 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

heavenly joy or angels' bliss . . . then is this feeling very 
suspicious to come from the enemy ; and therefore, though it 
be never so liking and wonderful, refuse it and assent not 
thereto." 1 Nearly every master of the contemplative life has 
spoken to the same effect: none, perhaps, more strongly than that 
stern and virile lover of the Invisible, St. John of the Cross, 
who was relentless in hunting down even the most " spiritual " 
illusions, eager to purge mind as well as morals of all taint 
of the unreal. 

" Spiritual men," he says, " are occasionally liable to repre- 
sentations and objects, set before them in a supernatural way. 
They sometimes see the forms and figures of those of another 
life, saints or angels, good and evil, or certain extraordinary 
lights and brightness. They hear strange words, sometynes 
seeing those who utter them and sometimes not. They have 
a sensible perception at times of most sweet odours without 
knowing whence they proceed. . . . Still, though all these may 
happen to the bodily senses in the way of God, we must never 
rely on them nor encourage them ; yea, rather we must fly 
from them, without examining whether they be good or evil. 
For, inasmuch as they are exterior and in the body, there is 
the less certainty of their being from God. It is more natural 
that God should communicate Himself through the spirit — 
wherein there is greater security and profit for the soul — than 
through the senses, wherein there is usually much danger and 
delusion, because the bodily sense decides upon, and judges, 
spiritual things, thinking them to be what itself feels them to 
be, when in reality they are as different as body and soul, 
sensuality and reason." 2 

Again, " in the high state of the union of love, God does 
not communicate Himself to the soul under the disguise of 
imaginary visions, similitudes or figures, neither is there place 
for such, but mouth to mouth. . . . The soul, therefore, that will 
ascend to this perfect union with God, must be careful not to 
lean upon imaginary visions, forms, figures, and particular intel- 
ligible objects, for these things can never serve as proportionate 
or proximate means towards so great an end ; yea, rather they 

1 "The Scale of Perfection," bk. i. cap. xi. 

2 " Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. xi. The whole chapter should be 
read in this connection. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 337 

are an obstacle in the way, and therefore to be guarded against 
and rejected." 1 

So, too, Madame Guyon. Ecstasies, raptures, and visions, 
she says, are far inferior to " pure orison " — that dumb absorp- 
tion in God which she learned at the time of her conversion. 
" Visions are experienced in those powers which are inferior to 
the will : and they should always have their effect in the will, 
and afterwards they should lose themselves in the experience 
of that which one has seen, known, and heard in these states : 
for without this the soul will never arrive at perfect union. 
Otherwise, that which she will have, and to which she may even 
give the name of union, will be only a mediated union, that is 
to say, an influx of the gifts of God into her powers [i.e., illumi- 
nation] ; but this is not God Himself. It is therefore very 
important to prevent souls from resting in visions and ecstasies, 
for this may check them almost for their whole lives. More, 
these graces are greatly subject to illusion. ... Of these sort 
of gifts, the least pure, and those most subject to illusion, are 
visions and ecstasies. Raptures and revelations [exalted and 
abrupt intuitions] are not quite so much: though these also are 
not a little so." " The vision," says Madame Guyon again, " is 
never God Himself and hardly ever Jesus Christ, as those who 
have had it suppose ... it seems to me that the apparitions 
which we believe to be Jesus Christ Himself are like what we 
see when the sun is reflected in the clouds so brilliantly that 
those who are not in the secret think that it is the sun which 
they see, although it is only his reflection. Thus it is that 
Jesus Christ is imaged in our minds in what is called Intellectual 
Visions^ which are the most perfect. . . . Phantoms and pious 
pictures also imprint themselves on the imagination. There 
are also corporeal visions, the least spiritual of all> and the most 
subject to illusion! ' 2 

Vision, then, is recognized by the true contemplative as at 
best a very imperfect, oblique, and untrustworthy method of 
apprehension : it is ungovernable, capricious, liable to deception, 
and the greater its accompanying hallucination the more sus- 
picious it becomes. One and all, however, distinguish different 
classes of visionary experience ; and differentiate sharply between 
the value of the vision which is " felt " rather than seen, and the 

1 "Subida del Monte Carmelo," 1. ii. cap. xvi. 8 Vie, pt. i. cap. ix. 



338 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

true optical hallucination which is perceived, exterior to the 
subject, by the physical sight. 

We may trace in visions, as we have done in voices — for 
these are, from the psychologist's point of view, strictly parallel 
phenomena — a progressive externalization on the self's part of 
those concepts or intuitions which form the bases of all auto- 
matic states. Three main groups have been distinguished by 
the mystics, and illustrated over and over again from their 
experiences. These are (i) Intellectual, (2) Imaginary, and (3) 
Corporeal vision: answering to (1) Substantial or inarticulate, 
(2) Interior and distinct, (3) Exterior words. With the first two 
we must now concern ourselves. As to corporeal vision, it has 
few peculiarities of interest to the student of pure mysticism. 
Like the " exterior word " it is little else than a more or less 
uncontrolled externalization of inward memories, thoughts, or 
intuitions — often, as Madame Guyon acutely observed, of some 
pious picture which has become imprinted on the mind — 
which may, in some subjects, attain the dimensions of true 
sensorial hallucination. 

(1) Intellectual Vision, — The "intellectual vision," like the 
" substantial word " as described to us by the mystics, is of so 
elusive, spiritual, and formless a kind that it is very hard to 
distinguish it from that act of pure contemplation in which it 
generally takes its rise. These moods and apprehensions of the 
soul are so closely linked together — the names applied to them 
are so often little more than the struggles of different individuals 
to describe by analogy an experience which is one — that we risk 
a loss of accuracy the moment that classification begins. The 
intellectual vision, so far as we can understand it, seems to be a 
something not sought but put before the mind, and seen or per- 
ceived by the whole self by means of a sense which is neither 
sight nor feeling, but partakes of the character of both. It is 
intimate but indescribable : definite, yet impossible to define. 
There is a passage in the " Consolations " of Angela of Foligno 
which describes very vividly the sequence of illuminated states 
which leads up to and includes the intuitions which form the 
substance of this " formless vision " and its complement the 
" formless word " : and this does far more towards making us 
realize its nature than the most painstaking psychological 
analysis could ever do. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 339 

" It must be known," says Angela, "that God cometh some- 
times unto the soul when it hath neither called nor prayed unto 
nor summoned Him. And He doth instil into the soul a fire 
not customary, wherein it doth greatly delight and rejoice ; and 
it doth believe that this hath been wrought by God Himself, but 
this is not certain. Presently the soul doth perceive that God is 
inwardly within itself because — albeit it cannot behold Him 
within — it doth nevertheless perceive that His grace is present 
with it, wherein it doth greatly delight. Yet is not even this 
certain. Presently it doth further perceive that God cometh 
unto it with most sweet words, wherein it delighteth yet more, 
and with much rejoicing doth it feel God within it ; yet do 
some doubts still remain, albeit but few. . . . Further, when God 
cometh unto the soul, it is sometimes given unto it to behold 
Him ; and it beholdeth Him devoid of any bodily shape or 
form, and more clearly than doth one man behold another. 
For the eyes of the soul do behold a spiritual and not a bodily 
presence, of the which I am not able to speak because words and 
imagination do fail me. And in very truth the soul doth 
rejoice in that sight with an ineffable joy, and regardeth nought 
else, because this it is which doth fill it with most inestimable 
satisfaction. This searching and beholding (wherein God is seen 
in such a manner that the soul can behold naught else) is so 
profound that much doth it grieve me that I cannot make 
manifest aught whatsoever of it ; seeing that it is not a thing 
the which can be touched or imagined or judged of." x 

Intellectual vision, then, seems to be closely connected with 
that " consciousness of the Presence of God " which we dis- 
cussed in the last chapter: though the contemplatives them- 
selves declare that it differs from it. 2 It is distinguished 
apparently from that more or less diffused consciousness of 
Divine Immanence by the fact that, although unseen of the 
eyes, it can be exactly located in space. The mystic's general 
awareness of the divine is here focussed upon one point — a 
point to which some theological or symbolic character is at once 
attached. The result is a sense of presence so concrete, defined, 

1 B. Angelae de Fulginio, " Visionum et Instructional! Liber," cap. lii. (English 
translation, p. 24). 

2 " It is not like that presence of God which is frequently felt . . . this is a great 
grace . . . but it is not vision " (St. Teresa, Vida, cap. xxvii. § 6). 



340 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and sharply personal that, as St. Teresa says, it carries more con- 
viction than bodily sight. This invisible presence is generally 
identified by Christian mystics rather with the Humanity of 
Christ than with the unconditioned Absolute. " In the prayer 
of union and of quiet," says St. Teresa again, "certain inflow- 
ings of the Godhead are present ; but in the vision the Sacred 
Humanity also, together with them, is pleased to be our com- 
panion and to do us good." ? " When one is not thinking at all 
of any such favour," she says again, " and has not even had the 
idea of meriting it, suddenly one feels at one's side Our Lord 
Jesus Christ, without seeing Him either with the eyes of the 
body or those of the soul. This sort of vision is called intellectual. 
I do not know why. . . . Intellectual visions do not go quickly, like 
imaginary ones, but last several days, sometimes more than a 
year. . . . We know that God is present in all our actions : but 
such is the infirmity of our nature, that we often lose sight of 
this truth. Here this forgetfulness is impossible, because Our 
Lord, Who is close to the soul, keeps her constantly awake : 
and as she has an almost continual love for That which she sees, 
or rather feels close to her, she receives the more frequently the 
favours of which we have spoken." 2 

In such a state — to which the term "vision" is barely applic- 
able — it will be observed that consciousness is at its highest, 
and hallucination at its lowest point. Nothing is seen, even 
with the eyes of the mind : as, in the parallel case of the 
" substantial word," nothing is said. It is pure apprehension : 
in the one case of Personality, in the other of knowledge. " The 
immediate vision of the naked Godhead," says Suso of this, " is 
without doubt the pure truth : a vision is to be esteemed the 
more noble the more intellectual it is, the more it is stripped of 
all image and approaches the state of pure contemplation." 3 

We owe to St. Teresa our finest first-hand account of this 
strange condition of " awareness." It came upon her abruptly, 
after a period of psychic distress, and seemed to her to be an 
answer to her unwilling prayers that she might be " led " by 
some other way than that of " interior words *' ; which were, in 
the opinion of her director, " so suspicious." " I could not force 

1 Op. cit., loc. cit. 

a St. Teresa, " El Castillo Interior," Moradas Sextas, cap. viii. 

s Leben, cap. liv. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 341 

myself," she says, " to desire the change, nor believe that I was 
under the influence of Satan. Though I was doing all I could 
to believe the one and to desire the other, it was not in my power 
to do so." She resolved this divided state by making an act of 
total surrender to the will of God : and it seems to have been as 
the result of this release of stress, this willing receptivity, that 
the new form of automatism suddenly developed itself, rein- 
forcing and justifying the auditions, and bringing peace and 
assurance to the distracted surface-self. 

"At the end of two years spent in prayer by myself and 
others for this end, namely, that our Lord would either lead me 
by another way, or show the truth of this — for now the locutions 
of our Lord were extremely frequent — this happened to me. I 
was in prayer one day — it was the feast of the glorious St. Peter 
— when I saw Christ close by me, or, to speak more correctly, 
felt Him ; for I saw nothing with the eyes of the body, nothing 
with the eyes of the soul. He seemed to me to be close beside 
me ; and I saw, too, as I believe, that it was He who was speak- 
ing to me. As I was utterly ignorant that such a vision was 
possible, I was extremely afraid at first, and did nothing but 
weep ; however, when He spoke to me but one word to reassure 
me, I recovered myself, and was, as usual, calm and comforted, 
without any fear whatever. Jesus Christ seemed to be by my 
side continually, and, as the vision was not imaginary, I saw no 
form ; but I had a most distinct feeling that He was always on 
my right hand, a witness of all I did ; and never at any time, if 
I was but slightly recollected, or not too much distracted, could 
I be ignorant of His near presence. I went at once to my con- 
fessor in great distress, to tell him of it. He asked in what form 
I saw our Lord. I told him I saw no form. He then said : 
1 How did you know that it was Christ ? ' I replied that I did 
not know how I knew it ; but I could not help knowing that 
He was close beside me . . . there are no words whereby to 
explain — at least, none for us women, who know so little ; 
learned men can explain it better. 

" For if I say that I see Him neither with the eyes of the body 
nor those of the soul — because it was not an imaginary vision — 
how is it that I can understand and maintain that He stands 
beside me, and be more certain of it than if I saw Him ? If it 
be su noosed that it is as if a person were blind, or in the dark, 



342 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and therefore unable to see another who is close to him, the 
comparison is not exact. There is a certain likelihood about it, 
however, but not much, because the other senses tell him who is 
blind of that presence : he hears the other speak or move, or he 
touches him ; {but in these visions there is nothing like this. 
The darkness is not felt ; only He renders Himself present to 
the soul by a certain knowledge of Himself which is more clear 
than the sun. I do not mean that we now see either a sun or 
any other brightness, only that there is a light not seen, which 
illumines the understanding, so that the soul may have the fruition 
of so great a good. This vision brings with it great blessings." x 

(2) In Imaginary Vision, as in "interior words," there is 
again no sensorial hallucination. The self sees sharply and 
clearly, it is true : but is perfectly aware that it does so in virtue 
of its most precious organ — " that inward eye which is the bliss 
of solitude." 2 Imaginary Vision is the spontaneous and auto- 
matic activity of a power which all artists, all imaginative people, 
possess. So far as the machinery employed in it is concerned, 
there is little real difference except in degree between Words- 
worth's imaginary vision of the "dancing daffodils" and Suso's 
of the dancing angels, who " though they leapt very high in the 
dance, did so without any lack of gracefulness." 3 Both are 
admirable examples of " passive imaginary vision " : though in 
the first case the visionary is aware that the picture seen is 
supplied by memory, whilst in the second it arises spontaneously 
like a dream from the subliminal region, and contains elements 
which may be attributed to love, belief, and direct intuition of 
truth. 

Such passive imaginary vision — by which I mean spontaneous 
mental pictures at which the self looks, but in the action of 
which it does not participate — takes in the mystics two main 
forms : (a) purely symbolic, {b) personal. 

1 St. Teresa, Vida, cap. xxvii. §§ 2-5. 

a " For oft, when on my couch I lie 

In vacant or in pensive mood, 

They flash upon that inward eye 

Which is the bliss of solitude ; 

And then my heart with pleasure fills, 

And dances with the daffodils." 

Wordsworth, "The Daffodils." 
3 Leben, cap. vii. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 343 

(a) In the symbolic form there is no mental deception : the self 
is aware that it is being shown truth u under an image." Rulman 
Merswin's " Vision of Nine Rocks " is thus described to us as 
being seen by him in a sharp picture, the allegorical meaning of 
which was simultaneously presented to his mind. In Suso's 
life such symbolic visions abound : he seems to have lived 
always on the verge of such a world of imagination, and to 
have imbibed truth most easily in this form. Thus : " It hap- 
pened one morning that the Servitor saw in a vision that he was 
surrounded by a troop of heavenly spirits. He therefore asked 
one of the most radiant amongst these Princes of the Sky to 
show him how God dwelt in his soul. The angel said to him, 
' Do but fix your eyes joyously upon yourself, and watch how 
God plays the game of love within your loving soul.' And he 
looked quickly, and saw that his body in the region of his heart 
was pure and transparent like crystal : and he saw the Divine 
Wisdom peacefully enthroned in the midst of his heart, and she 
was fair to look upon. And by her side was the soul of the 
Servitor, full of heavenly desires ; resting lovingly upon the 
bosom of God, Who had embraced it, and pressed it to His 
Heart. And it remained altogether absorbed and inebriated 
with love in the arms of God its well-beloved." l 

In such a vision as this, we see the mystic's passion for the 
Absolute, his intuition of Its presence in his soul, combining 
with the constituents of poetic imagination and expressing 
themselves in an allegorical form. It is really a visualized 
poem, inspired by a direct contact with truth. Of the same 
kind are many of those great reconstructions of Eternity in 
which mystics and seers of the transcendent and outgoing type 
actualized their profound apprehensions of truth. In such cases, 
as Beatrice told Dante when he saw the great vision of the 
River of Light, the thing seen is the shadowy presentation of a 
transcendent Reality which the self is not yet strong enough 
to see. 

" E vidi lume in forma di riviera 

fulvide di fulgore, intra due rive 
dipinte di mirabil primavera. 



1 Suso, Leben, cap. vi. 



344 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Di tal fnimana uscian faville vive, 

e d' ogni parte si mettean nei fiori, 
quasi rubin che oro circonscrive. 
Poi come inebriate dagli odori, 

riprofondavan se nel miro gurge, 
e, s'una entrava, un' altra n' uscia fuori." 
***** 
"il sol degli occhi miei 
Anco soggiunse : II fiume, e li topazii 

ch' entrano ed escono, e il rider dell' erbe 
son di lor vero ombriferi prefazii. 
Non che da se sien queste cose acerbe : 
ma e difetto dalla parte tua, 
che non hai viste ancor tanto superbe." ■ 

In the last two lines of this wonderful passage, the whole 
philosophy of vision is expressed. It is an accommodation 
of the supra-sensible to our human disabilities, a symbolic 
reconstruction of reality. This symbolic reconstruction is seen 
as a profoundly significant, vivid, and dramatic dream : and 
since this dream is directly representative of truth, and initiates 
the visionary into the atmosphere of the Eternal, it may well 
claim precedence over that prosaic and perpetual vision which 
we call the "real world." In it — as in the meaningless dreams 
of our common experience — vision and audition are often com- 
bined. Many of the visions of St. Mechthild of Hackborn are 
of this complex type. Thus — " She saw in the Heart of 
God, as it were a virgin exceeding fair, holding a ring in her 
hand on which was a diamond : with which, incessantly, she 
touched the Heart of God. Moreover, the soul asked why that 
virgin thus touched the Heart of God. And the virgin 
answered, ' I am Divine Love and this stone signifieth the 
sin of Adam. ... As soon as Adam sinned, I introduced 
myself and intercepted the whole of his sin, and by thus 
ceaselessly touching the Heart of God and moving Him to 

1 Par. xxx. 6 1-8 1 : " And I saw light in the form of a river blazing with radiance, 
streaming between banks painted with a marvellous spring. Out of that river issued 
living sparks and settled on the flowers on every side, like rubies set in gold. Then, 
as it were inebriated by the perfume, they plunged again into the wondrous flood, 
and as one entered another issued forth. . . . Then added the Sun of my eyes : The 
river, the topazes that enter and come forth, the smiling flowers, are shadowy fore- 
tastes of their reality. Not that these things are themselves imperfect ; but on thy 
side is the defect, in that thy vision cannot rise so high." This vision probably owes 
something to Mechthild of Magdeburg's concept of Deity as a Flowing Light. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 345 

pity, I suffered Him not to rest until the moment when I took 
the Son of God from His Father's Heart and laid Him in the 
Virgin Mother's womb.' . . . Another time, she saw how Love, 
under the likeness of a fair Virgin, went round about the 
consistory singing Alone I have made the circuit of heaven, and 1 
have walked on the waves of the sea. In these words she under- 
stood how Love had subjected to herself the Omnipotent 
Majesty of God, had inebriated His Unsearchable Wisdom, had 
drawn forth all His most sweet goodness ; and, by wholly 
conquering His divine justice and changing it into gentleness 
and mercy, had moved the Lord of all Majesty." « 

Imaginary vision of this kind is probably far more common 
than is generally supposed : and can exist without any disturb- 
ance of that balance of faculties which is usually recognized as 
"sane." In many meditative persons it appears, involuntarily, 
at the summit of a train of thought, which it sometimes 
illustrates and sometimes contradicts. The picture may show 
itself faintly against a background of mist ; or may start into 
existence sharply focused, well-lighted, and alive. It always 
brings with it a greater impression of reality than can be 
obtained by the more normal operations of the mind. 

(b) The symbolic and artistic character of the visions we 
have been discussing is obvious. There is, however, another 
form of imaginary vision which must be touched on with a 
gentler hand. In this, the imagery seized upon by the sub- 
liminal powers, or placed before the mind by that Somewhat 
Other of which the mystic is always conscious over against 
himself, is at once so vivid, so closely related to the concrete 
beliefs and spiritual passions of the self, and so perfectly 
expresses its apprehensions of God, that it is not always 
recognized as symbolic in kind. A simple example of this is 
the vision of Christ at the moment of consecration at Mass, 
experienced by so many Catholic ecstatics. 2 Another is the 

x Mechthild of Hackborn, " Liber Specialis Gratiae," 1. ii. caps. xvii. and 

XXXV. 

2 For instance, the Blessed Angela 01 Foligno, who gives in her u Visions and 
Consolations " a complete series of such experiences ; ranging from an almost sublime 
apprehension of Divine Beauty (cap. xxxvii. English translation, p. 222) to a concrete 
vision of two eyes shining in the Host (cap. xliii. English translation, p. 230). " I 
did of a certainty behold Him with mine eyes in that sacrament," she says, " poor, 
suffering, bleeding, crucified, and dead upon the Cross" (cap. xxxviii. p. 223). 



346 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

celebrated vision in which St. Anthony of Padua embraced the 
Divine Child. St. Teresa is one of the few mystics who have 
detected the true character of automatisms of this sort : which 
bring with them — like their purer forms, the intellectual visions 
of God — a vivid apprehension of Personality, the conviction of a 
living presence, rather than the knowledge of new facts. 
"Now and then," she says of her own imaginary visions of 
Christ, " it seemed to me that what I saw was an image : but 
most frequently it was not so. I thought it was Christ Himself, 
judging by the brightness in which He was pleased to show 
Himself. Sometimes the vision was so indistinct, that I 
thought it was an image : but still, not like a picture, however 
well painted, and I have seen a good many pictures. It would 
be absurd to suppose that the one bears any resemblance 
whatever to the other, for they differ as a living person differs 
from his portrait, which, however well drawn, cannot be life-like, 
for it is plain that it is a dead thing." * 

" This vision," she says in another place, " passes like a flash 
of lightning . . . the word image here employed, does not 
signify a picture placed before the eyes, but a veritable 
living image, which sometimes speaks to the soul and reveals 
great secrets to her." 2 

It seems, then, that this swift and dazzling vision of 
Divine Personality may represent a true contact of the soul 
with the Absolute Life — a contact immediately referred to 
the image under which the Self is accustomed to think of 
its God. In the case of Christian contemplatives this image 
will obviously be most usually the historical Person of 
Christ, as He is represented in sacred literature and art.3 

"Another time I beheld Christ in the consecrated Host as a child. He appeared 
certainly to be a child of twelve years of age, very lordly, as though He held the 
sceptre and the dominion " (cap. xlii. p. 229). (B. Angelae de Fulginio, " Visionum 
et Instructionum Liber.") 

1 Vida, cap. xxviii. § 11. 

a "El Castillo Interior," Moradas Sextas, cap. ix. 

* " On one of the feasts of St. Paul, while I was at Mass, there stood before me 
the most sacred Humanity as painters represent Him after the resurrection " (St. 
Teresa, Vida, cap. xxviii. § 4). So too the form assumed by many of the visions 01 
Angela of Foligno is obviously due to her familiarity with the frescoed churches of 
Assisi and the Vale of Spoleto. " When I did bend my knees upon entering in at the 
door of the church," she says, "I immediately beheld a picture of St. Francis lying 
in Christ's bosom. Then said Christ unto me, 'Thus closely will I hold thee, 



VOICES AND VISIONS 347 

The life-enhancing quality of such an abrupt apprehension, 
however, the profound sense of reality which it brings, permit 
of its being classed not amongst vivid dreams, but amongst 
those genuine mystic states in which "the immanent God, 
formless, but capable of assuming all forms, expresses Himself 
in vision as He had expressed Himself in words." x Certainty 
and joy are always felt by the self which experiences it. It 
is as it were a love-letter received by the ardent soul ; which 
brings with it the very fragrance of personality, along with the 
sign-manual of the beloved. 

This concrete vision of Christ has the true mystic quality of 
ineffability, appearing to the self under a form of inexpressible 
beauty, illuminated with that unearthly light which is so 
persistently reported as a feature of all transcendent experience. 
The artist's exalted consciousness of Beauty as a form of Truth 
is here seen operating on the transcendental plane. Thus when 
St. Teresa saw only the Hands of God, she was thrown into 
an ecstasy of adoration by their shining loveliness. 2 " If I were 
to spend many years in devising how to picture to myself any- 
thing so beautiful," she says of the imaginary vision of Christ, 
" I should never be able, nor even know how, to do it ; for it is 
beyond the scope of any possible imagination here below : the 
whiteness and brilliancy alone are inconceivable. It is not a 
brightness which dazzles, but a delicate whiteness, an infused 
brightness, giving excessive delight to the eyes, which are never 
wearied thereby nor by the visible brightness which enables us 
to see a beauty so divine. It is a light so different from any 
light here below, that the very brightness of the sun we see, in 
comparison with the brightness and light before our eyes, seems 
to be something so obscure that no one would ever wish to open 
his eyes again. ... In short, it is such that no man, however 
gifted he may be, can ever in the whole course of his life arrive 
at any imagination of what it is. God puts it before us so 
instantaneously, that we could not open our eyes in time to see 
it, if it were necessary for us to open them at all. But whether 
our eyes be open or shut, it makes no difference whatever : 

and so much closer, that bodily eyes can neither perceive nor comprehend it '" 
(B. Angelae de Fulginio, op. cit., cap. xx. English translation, p. 165). 

1 Delacroix, "Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 116. 

2 Vida, cap. xxviii. § 2. 



348 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

for when our Lord wills, we must see it, whether we will 
or not." 1 

There is another and highly important class of visual 
automatisms: those which I have chosen to call Active 
Imaginary Visions. Whereas vision of the passive kind is 
the expression of thought, perception, or desire on the part of 
the deeper self: active vision is the expression of a change in 
that self, and generally accompanies some psychological crisis. 
In this vision, which always has a dramatic character, the self 
seems to itself to act, not merely to look on. Such visions may 
possess many of the characters of dream : they may be purely 
symbolic ; they may be theologically " realistic." They may 
entail a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, an 
excursion into fairyland, a wrestling with the Angel in the Way. 
Whatever their outward form, they are always connected with 
inward results. They are the automatic expressions of profound 
subliminal activity : not merely the media by which the self's 
awareness of the Absolute is strengthened and enriched, but the 
outward and visible signs of its movement towards new levels ot 
consciousness. Hence we are not surprised to find that a 
dynamic vision of this sort often initiates the Unitive Life. Such 
are the imaginary visions reported by St. Francis of Assisi and 
St. Catherine of Siena at the moment of their stigmatization : 
the transverberation of St. Teresa ; the heavenly visitor who 
announced to Suso his passage from the " lower school " to the 
"upper school" of the Holy Spirit. 2 But perhaps the most 
picturesque and convincing example of all such dramas of the 
soul, is that which is known in art as the " Mystic Marriage of 
St. Catherine of Siena." 

We have already seen that Catherine, who was subject from 
childhood to imaginary visions and interior words, had long been 
conscious oi a voice reiterating the promise of this sacred 
betrothal ; and that on the last day of the Carnival, A.D. 1 366, 
it said to her, " I will this day celebrate solemnly with thee the 



1 St. Teresa, op. cit., cap. xxviii. §§ 7, 8. Angela of Foligno says of an equivalent 
vision of Christ, " His beauty and adornment cannot be described, and so great was 
my joy at the sight of Him, that I do think that it will never fade, and there was 
such certainty with it that I do in no way doubt of the truth thereof ' ' (Angelae de 
Fulginio, op. cit., cap. xlii. English translation, p. 229). 

2 Leben, cap. xxi. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 349 

feast of the betrothal of thy soul, and even as I promised I will 
espouse thee to Myself in faith." " Then," says her legend, 
"whilst the Lord was yet speaking, there appeared the most 
glorious Virgin His Mother, the most blessed John, Evangelist, 
the glorious apostle Paul, and the most holy Dominic, father of 
her order ; and with these the prophet David, who had the 
psaltery set to music in his hands ; and while he played with 
most sweet melody the Virgin Mother of God took the right 
hand of Catherine with her most sacred hand, and, holding out 
her fingers towards the Son, besought Him to deign to espouse 
her to Himself in faith. To which graciously consenting the 
Only Begotten of God drew out a ring of gold, which had in its 
circle four pearls enclosing a most beauteous diamond ; and 
placing this ring upon the ring finger of Catherine's right hand 
He said, ■ Lo, I espouse thee to Myself, thy Creator and Saviour 
in the faith, which until thou dost celebrate thy eternal nuptials 
with Me in Heaven thou wilt preserve ever without stain. 
Henceforth, my daughter, do manfully and without hesitation 
those things which by the ordering of My providence will be put 
into thy hands ; for being now armed with the fortitude of the 
faith, thou wilt happily overcome all thy adversaries.' Then 
the vision disappeared, but that ring ever remained on her 
finger, not indeed to the sight of others, but only to the sight of 
the virgin herself; for she often, albeit with bashfulness, con- 
fessed to me that she always saw that ring on her finger, nor 
was there any time when she did not see it." z 

It is not difficult to discern the materials from which this 
vision has been composed. As far as its outward circumstances 
go, it is borrowed intact from the legendary history of St 
Catherine of Alexandria, with which her namesake, the " dyer'? 



1 E. Gardner, " St. Catherine of Siena," p. 25. Vita, i. xii. 1, 2 (Acta S.S-, loc 
cit.). In the ring which she always saw upon her finger, we seem to have an instance 
of true corporeal vision ; which finds a curiously exact parallel in the life of St. 
Teresa. " On one occasion when I was holding in my hand the cross of my rosary, 
He took it from me into His own hand. He returned it, but it was then four large 
stones incomparably more precious than diamonds. He said to me that for the 
future that cross would so appear to me always : and so it did. I never saw the wood 
of which it was made, but only the precious stones. They were seen, however, by no 
one else" (Vida, cap. xxix. § 8). This class of experience, says Augustine Baker, 
particularly gifts of roses, rings, and jewels, is "much to be suspected," except h» 
"souls of a long-continued sanctity " (" Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § iv. cap. iii.). 



350 AN INTKODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

daughter of Italy," must have been familiar from babyhood. 1 
Caterina Benincasa showed a characteristic artistic suggestibility 
and quickness in transforming the stuff of this old story into the 
medium of a profound personal experience : as her contem- 
poraries amongst the Sienese painters took subject, method, and 
composition from the traditional Byzantine source, yet forced 
them to become expressions of their own overpowering 
individuality. The important matter for us, however, is not 
the way in which the second Catherine adapted a traditional 
story to herself, actualized it in her experience : but the fact 
that it was for her the sacramental form under which she became 
acutely and permanently conscious of union with God. Long 
prepared by that growing disposition of her deeper self which 
caused her to hear the reiterated promise of her Beloved, the 
vision when it came was significant, not for its outward circum- 
stances, but for its permanent effect upon her life. In it she 
passed to a fresh level of consciousness ; entering upon that 
state of spiritual wedlock, of close and loving identification with 
the interests of Christ, which Richard of St. Victor calls the 
"Third Stage of Ardent Love." 

Of the same active sort is St. Teresa's great and celebrated 
vision, or rather experience, of the Transverberation ; in which 
imagery and feeling go side by side in their effort towards 
expressing the anguish of insatiable love. " I saw," she says, 
" an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I 
am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have 
visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intel- 
lectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our 
Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this 
wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful 
— his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who 
seem to be all of fire : they must be those whom we call 
Cherubim. ... I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at 
the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to 
me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my 
very entrails ; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out 
also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The 
pain was so great that it made me moan ; and yet so surpassing 
was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to 

1 Vide " Legenda Aurea," Nov. xxv. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 351 

be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than 
God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual ; though the body 
has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love 
so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that 
I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may 
think that I am lying." 1 

Finally it should be added that dynamic vision may assume 
a purely intellectual form ; as in the case of the Blessed Angela 
of Foligno. " Being thus exalted in spirit during the time of 
Lent, therefore," she says, " I was joined to God in a manner 
other than was customary for me. Methought I was in the 
midst of the Trinity in a manner higher and greater than was 
usual, for greater than usual were the blessings I received, and 
continually were there given unto me gifts full of delight, and 
rejoicing most great and unspeakable. All this was so far 
beyond anything which had heretofore happened unto me that 
vetily a divine change took place in my sou/, which neither saint 
nor angel could describe or explain. This divine change, or 
operation, was so profound that no angel or other creature, 
howsoever wise, could comprehend it ; wherefore do I say again 
that it seemeth unto me to be evil speaking and blasphemy if I 
do try to tell of it." 2 

Automatic Script 

The rarest of the automatic activities reported to us in connec- 
tion with mysticism is that of " automatic writing." This form 
of subliminal action has already been spoken of in an earlier 
chapter 3 ; where two of the most marked examples — Blake 
and Madame Guyon — are discussed. As in the case of voice 
and vision, so this power of automatic composition may and 
does exist in various degrees of intensity : ranging from that 
"inspiration," that irresistible impulse to write, of which all 
artists are aware, to the extreme form in which the hand of 
the conscious self seems to have become the agent of another 
personality. It is probably present to some extent in all the 
literary work of the great mystics, whose creative power, like 

1 Vida, cap. xxix. §§ 16, 17. 

3 " Visionum et Instructionum Liber," cap. xxvii. 'English translation, p. 186). 

3 Pp. 78, 79- 



352 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

that of most poets, is largely dissociated from the control of 
the will and the surface intelligence. 

St. Catherine of Siena, we are told, dictated her great 
Dialogue to her secretaries whilst in the state of ecstasy : which 
probably means a condition of consciousness resembling the 
" trance " of mediums, in which the deeper mind governs the 
tongue. Had she been more accustomed to the use of the pen 
— she did not learn writing until after the beginning of her 
apostolic life — that deeper mind would almost certainly have 
expressed itself by means of automatic script. As it is, in the 
rhythm and exaltation of its periods, the Dialogue bears upon 
it all the marks of true automatic composition of the highest 
type. The very discursiveness of its style, its loose employment 
of metaphor, the strangely mingled intimacy and remoteness of 
its tone, link it with prophetic literature ; and are entirely 
characteristic of subliminal energy of a rich type, dissociated 
from the criticism and control of the normal consciousness. 1 

So too the writings of Rulman Merswin, if we accept the 
ingenious and interesting theory of his psychic state elaborated 
by M. Jundt, 2 were almost wholly of this kind. So Blake stated 
on his deathbed that the credit for all his works belonged not 
to himself, but to his " celestial friends "3 : i.e.^ to the inspiration 
of a personality which had access to levels of truth and beauty 
unknown to his surface mind. 

St. Teresa was of much the same opinion in respect of her 
great mystical works : which were, she said, like the speech of 
a parrot repeating, though he cannot understand, the things 
which his master has taught him. There is little doubt that 
her powers of composition — as we might expect in one so apt 
at voice and vision — were largely of the uncontrolled, inspired, 
or " automatic " kind. She wrote most usually after the recep- 
tion of Holy Communion — that is to say, when her mystic 
consciousness was in its most active state — and always swiftly, 
without hesitations or amendments. Ideas and images welled 
up from her rich and active subliminal region too quickly, 
indeed, for her eager, hurrying pen : so that she sometimes 
exclaimed, " Oh, that I could write with many hands, so that 

1 On this point I must respectfully differ from Mr. E. Gardner. See his 
"St. Catherine of Siena," p. 354. 

a Supra, p. 224 3 Berger, " William Blake," p. 54. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 353 

none were forgotten!" 1 In Teresa's unitive state, a slight 
suggestion was enough to change the condition of her con- 
sciousness, place her under the complete domination of her 
deeper mind. Often, she said, when composing the " Interior 
Castle," her work reacted upon herself. She would suddenly 
be caught up into the very degree of contemplation which 
she was trying to describe, and continued to write in this 
absorbed or entranced condition, clearly perceiving that her 
pen was guided by a power not her own, and expressed ideas 
unknown to her surface mind, which filled her with astonish- 
ment. 

In the evidence given during the process for St. Teresa's 
beatification, Maria de San Francisco of Medina, one of her 
early nuns, stated that on entering the saint's cell whilst she 
was writing this same " Interior Castle " she found her so 
absorbed in contemplation as to be unaware of the external 
world. "If we made a noise close to her," said another, Maria 
del Nacimiento, " she neither ceased to write nor complained of 
being disturbed." Both these nuns and also Ana de la Encar- 
nacion, prioress of Granada, affirmed that she wrote with 
immense speed, never stopping to erase or to correct : being 
anxious, as she said, to " write what the Lord had given her, 
before she forgot it." They and many others declared that 
when she was thus writing she seemed like another being : 
and that her face, excessively beautiful in expression, shone 
with an unearthly splendour which afterwards faded away. 2 

As for Madame Guyon, whose temperament had in it almost 
as much of the medium as of the mystic, and whose passion for 
quietism and mental passivity left her almost wholly at the 
mercy of subconscious impulses, she exhibits by turns the 
phenomena of clairvoyance, prophecy, telepathy, and automatic 
writing, in bewildering profusion. 

" I was myself surprised," she says, " at the letters which 
Thou didst cause me to write, and in which I had no part save 
the actual movement of my hand : and it was at this time that 
I received that gift of writing according to the interior mind, 
and not according to my own mind, which I had never known 
before. Also my manner of writing was altogether changed, 

1 G. Cunninghame Graham, " Santa Teresa," vol. i. p. 202. 

2 Ibid., pp. 203-4. 



354 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

and every one was astonished because I wrote with such great 
facility." 1 

Again, " As soon as I began to read Holy Scripture, I was 
caused to write the passage that I had read ; and at once, the 
interpretation of it was given to me. In writing the passage 
I had not the least thought of the interpretation. Yet no sooner 
was it written, than it was given to me to explain it, writing 
with inconceivable swiftness. Before writing, I knew not what 
I was going to write : in writing, I saw that I wrote things 
which I had never known, and during the time of this mani- 
festation it was revealed to me that I had in me treasures of 
knowledge and understanding which I did not know that I 
possessed. . . . Thou didst make me write with so great a 
detachment that I was obliged to leave off and begin again as 
Thou didst choose. Thou didst try me in every way : suddenly 
Thou wouldst cause me to write, then at once to cease, and then 
to begin again. When I wrote during the day, I would be 
suddenly interrupted, and often left words half written, and 
afterwards Thou wouldst give me whatever was pleasing to 
Thee. Nothing of that which I wrote was in my mind : my 
mind, in fact, was so wholly at liberty that it seemed a blank 
I was so detached from that which I wrote that it seemed 
foreign to me. . . . All the faults in my writings come from 
this : that being unaccustomed to the operations of God, I was 
often unfaithful to them, thinking that I did well to continue 
writing when I had time, without being moved thereto, because 
I had been told to finish the work. So that it is easy to dis- 
tinguish the parts which are fine and sustained, and those which 
have neither savour nor grace. I have left them as they are ; so 
that the difference between the Spirit of God and the human or 
natural spirit may be seen. ... I continued always to write, 
and with an inconceivable swiftness, for the hand could hardly 
keep up with the dictating spirit : and during this long work, 
I never changed my method, nor did I make use of any book. 
The scribe could not, however great his diligence, copy in five 
days that which I wrote in a single night. ... At the beginning 
I made many mistakes, not being yet broken to the operation 
of the spirit of God which caused me to write. For He made 
me cease writing when I had time to write and could have done 

1 Vie, pt. ii. cap. ii. 



VOICES AND VISIONS 355 

it without inconvenience, and when I felt a great need of sleep, 
then it was He made me write. ... I will add to all that I have 
been saying on my writings, that a considerable part of the book 
on 'Judges' was lost. Being asked to complete it, I rewrote 
the lost portions. Long afterwards, when I was moving house, 
these were found in a place where no one could have imagined 
that they would be ; and the old and new versions were 
exactly alike — a circumstance which greatly astonished those 
persons of learning and merit who undertook its verifica- 
tion."! 

A far greater and stronger mystic than Madame Guyon, 
Jacob Boehme, was also in his literary composition the more 
or less helpless tool of some power other than his normal sur- 
face-mind. It is clear from his own words concerning it, that 
his first book, the " Aurora," produced after the great illumination 
which he received in the year 1610, was no deliberate composi- 
tion, but an example of inspired or automatic script. This 
strange work, full of sayings of a deep yet dazzling darkness 
was condemned by the local tribunal ; and Boehme was for- 
bidden to write more. For seven years he obeyed. Then " a 
new motion from on high " seized him, and under the pressure 
of this subliminal impulse — which, characteristically, he feels 
as coming from without not from within — he began to write 
again. 

This second outburst of composition, too, was almost purely 
automatic in type. The transcendental consciousness was 
in command, and Boehme's surface-intellect could exert 
but little control. " Art," he says of it himself, " has not 
wrote here, neither was there any time to consider how to 
set it punctually down, according to the Understanding of 
the Letters, but all was ordered according to the Direction of 
the, Spirit, which often went in haste, so that in many words 
Letters may be wanting, and in some Places a Capital Letter 
for a Word ; so that the Penman's Hand, by reason he was not 
accustomed to it, did often shake. And though I could have 
wrote in a more accurate, fair and plain Manner, yet the 
Reason was this, that the burning Fire often forced forward 

1 Vie, pt. ii. cap. xxi. Those who wish to compare this vivid subjective account 
of automatic writing with modern attested instances may consult Myers, "Human 
Personality," and Oliver Lodge, "The Survival of Man." 



356 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

with Speed, and the Hand and Pen must hasten directly after 
it ; for it comes and goes as a sudden Shower." x 

No description could give more vividly than this the spon- 
taneous and uncontrollable character of these automatic states ; 
the welling-up of new knowledge, the rapid formation of 
sentences : so quick, that the hand of the subject can hardly 
keep pace with that "burning Fire," the travail of his inner 
mind. As in vision, so here, the contents of that inner mind, 
its hoarded memories, will influence the form of the message: 
and hence, in Boehme's works, the prevalence of that obscure 
Kabalistic and Alchemical imagery which baffles even his 
most eager readers, and which is the result of an earlier 
acquaintance with the works of Paracelsus, Weigel, and 
Sebastian Franck. 2 Such language, however, no more dis- 
credits the " power behind the pen," than the form under which 
St. Catherine of Siena apprehended the mystic marriage dis- 
credits her attainment of the unitive life. In the fruit of such 
automatic travail, such a " wrestling with the Angel in the way," 
the mystic offers to our common humanity the chalice of the 
Spirit of Life. We may recognize the origins of the ornament 
upon the chalice : but we cannot justly charge him with counter- 
feiting the Wine. 

We have been dealing throughout this section with means 
rather than with ends: means snatched at by the struggling self 
which has not yet wholly shaken itself free from " image," in 
its efforts to seize somehow — actualize, enjoy, and adore — that 
Absolute which is the sum of its desires. No one will ever 
approach an understanding of this phase of the mystical con- 
sciousness, who brings to it either a contempt for the minds 
which could thus simply and sometimes childishly objectivize 
the Divine, or a superstitious reverence for the image, apart 
from the formless Reality at which it hints. Between these two 
extremes lies our hope of grasping the true place of automatisms 
on the Mystic Way : of seeing in them instances of the adapta- 
tion of those means by which we obtain consciousness of the 
phenomenal world, to an apprehension of that other world 
whose attainment is humanity's sublimest end. 

1 Works of Jacob Boehme (English translation, vol. i. p. xiv.). 
8 See E. Boutroux, " 1> Philosophe Allemand, Jacob Boehme." 



CHAPTER VI 
INTROVERSION. Part I : RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 

Introversion is the characteristic mystic art — Its development accompanies organic 
growth — It is susceptible of education — The value of tradition — The training of will 
and attention — Contemplation the only real way of perceiving anything — Its method 
described — An experiment — Introversion — Ecstasy — the two aspects of contempla- 
tive consciousness — The ground of the soul — Philosophic contemplation — The 
Degrees of Orison — their nature — The end of contemplation — Hilton — Naked 
orison — All "stages" or degrees of orison arbitrary and diagrammatic — But some 
division essential to description — Three stages — Recollection, Quiet, Contemplation — 
Orison grows with the growing self — disciplines the mind, will and heart — St. Teresa's 
degrees of orison — It is a progress in love — a retreat from circumference to centre — 
Its end is union — Recollection — a difficult process — Boehme — Meditation — its char- 
acteristics — it develops into Recollection — A spiritual gymnastic — St. Teresa — Quiet 
— its characteristics — largely inexpressible — Suspension of thought — Its development 
from Recollection — It is a state of humility — Its nature described — Two aspects of 
Quiet : positive and negative — Eckhart — The Epistle of Private Counsel — St. Teresa 
— Quiet and Quietism — The " danger-zone " of introversion— Ruysbroeck on Quietism 
— its evils — It is a perversion of truth — Molinos — Von Hilgel — The distinguishing 
mark of true Quiet — Madame Guyon — Quiet is a transitional state 

IN our study of the First Mystic Life, its purification and 
illumination, we have been analysing and considering a 
process of organic development ; an evolution of person- 
ality. This may be called — indifferently — either a movement 
of consciousness towards higher levels, or a remaking of con- 
sciousness consequent on the emergence and growth of a factor 
which is dormant in ordinary man, but destined to be supreme 
in the full-grown mystic type. We have seen the awakening 
of this factor — this spark of the soul — with its innate capacity 
for apprehending the Absolute. We have seen it attack and 
conquer the old sense-fed and self-centred life of the normal 
self, and introduce it into a new universe, lit up by the Un- 
created Light. These were the events which, taken together, 

357 



358 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

constituted the " First Mystic Life " ; a complete round upon 
the spiral road which leads from man to God. 

What we have been looking at, then, is a life-process, the 
establishment of a certain harmony between the self and 
Reality: and we have discussed this life-process rather as if 
it contained no elements which were not referable to natural 
and spontaneous growth, to the involuntary adjustments of the 
organism to that extended or transcendental universe of which 
it gradually becomes aware. 

But side by side with this organic growth goes a specific 
kind of activity which is characteristic of the mystic : a form 
under which his consciousness works best, and his awareness 
of the Infinite is enriched and defined. Already once or twice 
we have been in the presence of this activity, have been obliged 
to take its influence into account : as, were we studying other 
artistic types, we could not leave the medium in which they 
work wholly on one side. 

Contemplation is the mystic's medium. It is to him that 
which harmony is to the musician, form and colour to the 
artist, measure to the poet : the vehicle by which he can best 
apprehend the Good and Beautiful, enter into communion with 
the Real. As " voice " or " vision " is the way in which his 
transcendental consciousness presents its discoveries to the 
surface-mind, so contemplation is the way in which it makes 
those discoveries, perceives the supra-sensible. The growth of 
his effective genius, therefore, is connected with his growth in 
this art: and that growth is largely conditioned by education. 

The painter, however great his natural powers may be, can 
hardly dispense with some technical training ; the musician is 
wise if he acquaint himself at least with the elements of 
counterpoint. So too the mystic. It is true that he some- 
times seems to spring abruptly to the heights, to be caught 
into ecstasy without previous preparation : as a poet may 
startle the world by a sudden masterpiece. But unless they 
be backed by discipline, these sudden and isolated flashes of 
inspiration will not long avail for the production of great works. 
" Ordina quest' amore, o tu che m'ami " is the one imperative 
demand made by Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, by every aspect 
of Reality, upon the human soul. Lover and philosopher, saint, 
artist, and scientist, must alike obey or fail. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 359 

Transcendental genius, then, obeys the laws which govern 
all other forms of genius, in being susceptible of culture : and, 
indeed, cannot develop its full powers without an educative 
process of some kind. This strange art of contemplation, which 
the mystic tends naturally to practise during the whole of his 
career — which develops step by step with his vision and his 
love — demands of the self which undertakes it the same hard 
dull work, the same slow training of the will, which lies behind 
all supreme achievement, and is the price of all true liberty. It 
is the want of such training — such " supersensual drill " — which 
is responsible for the mass of vague, ineffectual, and sometimes 
harmful mysticism which has always existed : the dilute cosmic 
emotion and limp spirituality which hangs, as it were, on the 
skirts of the true seekers of the Absolute and brings discredit 
upon their science. 

In this, as in all the other and lesser arts which have been 
developed by the race, education consists largely in a humble"! 
willingness to submit to the discipline, and profit by the lessons, 
of the past. Tradition runs side by side with experience ; the 
past collaborates with the present. Each new and eager soul 
rushing out towards the only end of Love passes on its way the 
landmarks left by others upon the pathway to Reality. If it be 
wise it observes them : and finds in them rather helps towards 
attainment than hindrances to that freedom which is of the 
essence of the mystic act. This act, it is true, is in the last 
resort a solitary affair, " the flight of the Alone to the Alone." 
There is nothing of " social Christianity " in that supreme 
adventure whereby " God and the soul are made one thing." 
At the same time, here as elsewhere, man cannot safely divorce 
his own personal history from that of the race. The best and 
truest experience does not come to the eccentric and individual 
pilgrim whose intuitions are his only law : but rather to him 
who submits personal intuition to the guidance afforded by the 
general history of the mystic type. Those who refuse this 
guidance do as a fact expose themselves to all the dangers 
which crowd about the individualist : from heresy at one end 
of the scale to madness at the other. 

Vae Soli! Nowhere more clearly than in the history of 
mysticism do we observe the essential solidarity of mankind : the 
penalty paid by those who will not acknowledge it. 



360 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Now the education which tradition has ever prescribed 
for the mystic, consists in the gradual development of an 
extraordinary faculty of concentration, a power of spiritual 
attention. It is not enough that he should naturally be 
"aware of the Absolute," unless he be able to contemplate 
it : just as the mere possession of eyesight or hearing, how- 
ever acute, needs to be supplemented by trained powers of 
perception and reception if we are really to appreciate — see 
or hear to any purpose — the masterpieces of Music or of 
Art. More, Nature herself reveals little of her secret to 
those who only look and listen with the outward ear and 
eye. The condition of all valid seeing and hearing upon every 
plane of consciousness lies not in the sharpening of the senses, 
but in a peculiar attitude of the whole personality : in a self- 
forgetting attentiveness, a profound concentration, a self- 
merging, which operates a real communion between the seer 
and the seen : in a word in Contemplation. 

Contemplation, then, is a power which we may — and often 
must — apply to the perception, not only of Divine Reality, but 
of anything. It is the condition under which all things give 
up to us the secret of their life. All artists are of necessity in 
some measure contemplative. " Innocence of eye " is little 
else than this : and only by its means can they see truly those 
things which they desire to represent. I invite those to whom 
these statements seem a compound of cheap psychology and 
cheaper metaphysics to clear their minds of prejudice and 
submit this matter to an experimental test. If they will be 
patient and honest — and unless they belong to that minority 
which is temperamentally incapable of the simplest contem- 
plative act — they will emerge from the experiment possessed 
of a little new knowledge as to the nature of the relation 
between the human mind and the outer world. 

All that is asked is that we shall look for a little time, in a 
special and undivided manner, at some simple, concrete, and 
external thing. 

This object of our contemplation may be almost anything 
we please : a picture, a statue, a tree, a distant hillside, a 
growing plant, running water, little living things. We need not, 
with Kant, go to the starry heavens. "A little thing the 
quantity of an hazel nut " will do for us, as it did for Lady 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 361 

Julian long ago. 1 Remember, it is a practical experiment on 
which we are set ; not an opportunity of pretty and pantheistic 
meditation. 

Look, then, at this thing which you have chosen. Wilfully 
refuse the messages which countless other aspects of the world 
are sending, and so concentrate your whole attention on 
this one act of sight that all other objects are excluded from 
the conscious field. Do not think, but as it were pour out your 
personality' towards it : let your soul be in your eyes. Almost 
at once, this new method of perception will reveal unsuspected 
qualities in the external world. First, you will perceive about 
you a strange and deepening quietness. Next, you will become 
aware of a heightened significance, an intensified existence in 
the thing at which you look. As you, with all your conscious- 
ness, lean out towards it, an answering current will meet yours. 
It seems as though the barrier between its life and your own, 
between subject and object, had melted away. You are 
merged with it, in an act of true communion : and you know 
the secret of its being deeply and unforgettably, yet in a way 
which you can never hope to express. 

Seen thus, a thistle has celestial qualities : a speckled hen a 
touch of the sublime. Our greater comrades, the trees, the 
clouds, the rivers, initiate us into mighty secrets, flame out at 
us " like shining from shook foil." The " eye which looks upon 
Eternity " has been given its opportunity. We have been 
immersed for a moment in the " life of the All " : a deep and 
peaceful love unites us with the substance of all things : a 
" Mystic Marriage " has taken place between the mind and 
some aspect of the external world. Cor ad cor loquitur-. Life 
has spoken to life, but not to the surface-intelligence. That 
surface-intelligence knows only that the message was true and 
beautiful : no more. 

The price of this experience has been a stilling of that 
surface-mind, a calling in of all our scattered interests : an 
entire giving of ourselves to this one activity, without self-con- 
sciousness, without reflective thought. Not mere mental con- 
centration, but total self-donation, is its secret. The contem- 
plative is contented to absorb and be absorbed : and by this 
humble access he attains to a plane of true communion which 
no intellectual process can come near. 

1 " Revelations of Divine Love," cap. v. 



362 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Now this simple experiment exercises on a small scale, and 
in regard to visible Nature, the faculty by which the mystic 
apprehends Invisible Reality — enters into communion with the 
Absolute. It is one thing, of course, to see truthfully for an 
instant the flower in the crannied wall : another, to bear the full 
blaze of "eternal Truth, true Love and loved Eternity." Yet 
both according to their measure are functions of the inward 
eye operating in the " suspension of the mind." 

This humble receptiveness, this still and steady gazing, in 
which emotion, will, and thought are lost and fused, is the 
secret of the great contemplative on fire with love of that which 
he has been allowed to see. But whilst the contemplation of 
Nature entails an outgoing towards somewhat indubitably 
external to us : the contemplation of spirit, as it seems to those 
who practise it, more often entails an ingoing or " introversion " 
of our faculties; a "journey towards the centre." The King- 
dom of God, they say, is within you: seek it, then, in the 
most secret habitations of the soul. 

The mystic, then, must learn so to concentrate all his 
faculties, his very self, upon the invisible and intangible, that 
all visible things are forgot : to bring it so sharply into focus 
that everything else is blurred. He must call in his scattered 
faculties by a deliberate exercise of the will, empty his mind of 
its swarm of images, its riot of thought. In mystical language 
he must " sink into his nothingness " : into that blank abiding 
place where busy, clever Reason cannot come. The whole of 
this process, this gathering up and turning " inwards " of the 
powers of the self, this gazing into the ground of the soul, is 
that which is called Introversion. 

Introversion is an art which can be acquired, as gradually 
and as certainly, by the born mystic, as the art of piano-playing 
can be acquired by the born musician. In both cases it is the 
genius of the artist which makes his use of the instrument 
effective : but it is also his education in the use of the instrument 
which enables that genius to express itself in an adequate way. 
Such mystical education, of course, presumes a something that 
can be educated : the " New Birth," the awakening of the 
deeper self, must have taken place before it can begin. It is 
a psychological process, and obeys psychological laws : there is 
in it no element of the unexpected or the supernatural. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 363 

In its early stages the practice of introversion is voluntary, 
difficult, and deliberate ; as are the early stages of learning to 
read or write. But as reading or writing finally becomes auto- 
matic, so as the mystic's training in introversion proceeds, 
habits are formed : and those contemplative powers which he is 
educating establish themselves amongst his normal faculties. 
Sometimes they wholly dominate these faculties, escape the 
control of the will, and appear spontaneously; seizing upon the 
conscious field. Such violent and involuntary invasions of 
the transcendental powers, when they utterly swamp the surface- 
consciousness and the subject is therefore cut off from his 
ordinary " external world," constitute the typical experience of 
rapture or ecstasy. It is under the expansive formulas of such 
abrupt ecstatic perception, u not by gradual steps, but by sudden 
ecstatic flights soaring aloft to the glorious things on high," 1 
that the mystical consciousness of Divine Transcendence is 
most clearly expressed. Those wide, exalted apprehensions of 
the Godhead which we owe to the mystics have been obtained, 
not by industrious meditation, but by "a transcending of all 
creatures, a perfect going forth from oneself : by standing in an 
ecstasy of mind." 2 Hence the experiences peculiar to these 
ecstatic states have a great value for the student of mystical 
science. It will be our duty to consider them in some detail in 
a later section of this book. 

The normal and deliberate practice of introversion, on the 
contrary, is tightly bound up with the sense of Divine Imma- 
nence. Its emphasis is on the indwelling God Who may be 
found " by a journey towards the centre " : on the conviction 
indeed that " angels and archangels are with us, but He is more 
truly our own who is not only with us but in us." 3 

Contemplation — taking that term in its widest sense, as 
embracing the whole mystic art — establishes communion be- 
tween the soul and the Absolute by way of these two comple- 
mentary modes of apprehending that which is One : A. The 
usually uncontrollable, definitely outgoing, ecstatic experience, 
the attainment of Pure Being, or u flight to God." B. The 

* St. Bernard, " De Consideratione, " bk. v. cap, iii. 
■ •' De Imitatione Christi," 1. iii. cap. xxxi. 

3 St. Bernard, op. cit. y bk. v. cap. v. So Lady Julian, "We are all in Him en- 
closed and He is enclosed in us " (" Revelations of Divine Love," cap. lvii.). 



364 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

more controllable ingoing experience, the breaking down of the 
barrier between the surface-self and those deeper levels of 
personality where God is met and known " in our nothingness," 
and a mysterious fusion of divine and human life takes place. 
The one, says the Christian mystic, is the " going forth to the 
Father " ; the other is the " marriage with the Son." Both are 
operated by the Indwelling Spirit, the " spark of the soul." Yet 
it is probable, in spite of the spatial language which the mystics 
always use concerning them, that these two experiences, in 
their most sublime forms, are but opposite aspects of one whole : 
the complementary terms of a higher synthesis beyond our span. 
In that consummation of love which Ruysbroeck has called 
"the peace of the summits" they meet: then distinctions 
between inward and outward, near and far, cease to have any 
meaning, in "the dim silence where lovers lose themselves." 
"To mount to God," says a tract attributed to Albert the 
Great, " is to enter into one's self. For he who inwardly 
entereth and intimately penetrateth into himself, gets above 
and beyond himself and truly mounts up to God." 1 

Says Tauler of this ineffable meeting-place, which is to the 
intellect an emptiness, and to the heart a fulfilment of all desire, 
" All there is so still and mysterious and so desolate : for there 
is nothing there but God only, and nothing strange. . . . This 
Wilderness is the Quiet Desert of the Godhead, into which He 
leads all who are to receive this inspiration of God, now or in 
Eternity." 2 From this " quiet desert," this still plane of being, 
so near to her though she is far from it, the normal self is 
separated by all the " unquiet desert " of sensual existence. 
Yet it stretches through and in her, the stuff of Reality, the 
very Ground of her being, since it is, in Julian's words, " the 
Substance of all that is " : linking that being at once with 
the universe and with God.^ "God is near us, but we are far 
from Him, God is within, we are without, God is at home, we 
are in the far country," said Meister Eckhart, struggling to 
express the nature of this " intelligible where." 3 Clearly, if the 
self is ever to become aware of it, definite work must be under- 
taken, definite powers of perception must be trained : and the 

x "De Adhaerando Deo," cap. vii. 

2 Third Instruction ("The Inner Way," p. 323). 

3 Eckhart, Pred. lxix. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 365 

consciousness which has been evolved to meet the exigencies 
of the World of Becoming must be initiated into that World of 
Being from which it came forth. 

Plato long ago defined the necessity of such a perception, 
and the nature of that art of contemplation by which the soul 
can feed upon the Real, when he said in one of his most purely 
mystical passages, " When the soul returns into itself and reflects, 
it passes into . . . the region of that which is pure and ever- 
lasting, immortal and unchangeable : and, feeling itself kindred 
thereto, it dwells there under its own control, and has rest from 
its wanderings." * The " contemplation " of Plato and of the 
Platonic Schools generally, however, is a purely intellectual 
activity : with him the head and not the heart is the meeting- 
place between man and the Real. " Anciently," says Augustine 
Baker, " there was a certain kind of false contemplation, which 
we may call philosophical, practised by some learned heathens 
of old, and imitated by some in these days, which hath for its 
last and best end only the perfection of knowledge and a 
delightful complacency in it. . . . To this rank of philosophical 
contemplations may be referred those scholastic wits which 
spend much time in the study and subtle examination of the 
mysteries of faith, and have not for their end the increasing 
of divine love in their hearts." 2 

We cannot long read the works of the mystics without 
coming across descriptions — often first-hand descriptions of 
great psychological interest — of the processes through which 
the self must pass, the discipline which it must undertake, in 
the course of acquiring the art of contemplation. Most of these 
descriptions differ as to detail ; as to the divisions adopted, the 
emotions experienced, the number of " degrees " through which 
the subject passes, from the first painful attempt to gather up 
its faculties to the supreme point at which it feels itself to be 
"lost in God." In each there is that quality of uniqueness 
which is inherent in every expression of life : in each the 
temperamental bias and analytical powers of the writer have 
exerted a further modifying influence. All, however, describe 
a connected experience, the progressive concentration of the 
entire self under the spur of love upon the contemplation of 
transcendental reality. As the Mystic Way involves transcen- 

1 Phaedo, 79 c. 2 " Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § iv. cap. i. 



366 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

dence of character, the movement of the whole man to higher 
levels of vitality, his attainment of freedom ; so the ascent of 
the ladder of contemplation involves such a transcendence, or 
movement to high levels of liberty, of his perceptive powers. 

The steps of the ladder, the substance of the progressive 
exercises undertaken by the developing self, its education in 
the art of contemplation, are called, in technical terms, the 
" degrees of orison " ; or sometimes, by an unfortunate con- 
fusion of the English language, the "degrees of prayer." 
" Prayer," as understood of the multitude, with all its implica- 
tions of conventional piety, formality, detailed petition — a 
definite something asked for, and a definite duty done, by means 
of extemporary or traditional allocutions addressed to the anthro- 
pomorphic Deity of popular religion — is far from suggesting 
the nature of those supersensual activities which the mystics 
mean to express in their use of this term. 

" Orison " has nothing in common with petition. It is not 
articulate ; it has no forms. "It is," says the " Mirror of St. 
Edmund," " naught else but yearning of soul." 1 On the psycho- 
logical side it is a steady discipline imposed upon the mystic's 
rich subliminal mind, a slow preparation of the channels in 
which that deeper consciousness is to flow : a reducing to some 
sort of order, a making effective for life, of those involuntary 
states of passivity, rapture, and intuition which are the 
characteristic ways in which an uncontrolled, uncultivated 
genius for the Absolute breaks out. To the subject himself, 
however, it seems rather a free and mutual act of love, a 
strange splendid "supernatural" intercourse between the soul 
and the divine, or some aspect of the divine : a wordless " con- 
versation in Heaven." 2 In some of its degrees it is a placid, 
trustful waiting upon messages from without. In others, it is 
an inarticulate communion, a wordless rapture, a silent gazing 
upon God. The mystics have exhausted all the resources of all 

1 Cap. xvii. 

2 " I discover all truths in the interior of my soul," says Antoinette Bourignan, 
" especially when I am recollected in my solitude in a forgetfulness of all Things. 
Then my spirit communicates with Another Spirit, and they entertain one another as 
two friends who converse about serious matters. And this conversation is so sweet 
that I have sometimes passed a whole day and a night in it without interruption 
or standing in need of meat or drink" (MacEwen, "Antoinette Bourignan, Quietist," 
p. 109). 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 367 

tongues in their efforts to tell us of the rewards which await 
those who will undertake this most sublime and difficult 
of arts. 

As we come to know our friends better by having inter- 
course with them, so by this deliberate intercourse the self 
enters more and more deeply into the Heart of Reality. 
Climbing like Dante step by step up the ladder of contempla- 
tion, it comes at last to the Empyrean, " ivi e perfetta, matura 
ed intera ciascuna disianza." x " Journeys end in lovers meet- 
ing." The true end of orison, like the true end of that 
mysticism which it cultivates, is the supreme meeting between 
Lover and Beloved, between God and the soul. Its method 
is the method of the mystic life, transcendence : a gradual 
approximation of the contemplative self to reality : the pro* 
duction within it of those conditions in which union can take 
place. This entails a concentration, a turning inwards, of all 
those faculties which the normal self has been accustomed to 
turn outwards, and fritter upon the manifold illusions of daily 
life. It means, during the hours of introversion, a retreat from 
and refusal of the Many, in order that the mind may be able to 
apprehend the One. " Behold," says Boehme, " if thou desirest 
to see God's Light in thy Soul, and be divinely illuminated and 
conducted, this is the short way that thou art to take ; not 
to let the Eye of thy Spirit enter into Matter or fill itself with 
any Thing whatever, either in Heaven or Earth, but to let 
it enter by a naked faith into the Light of the Majesty." 2 

" What this opening of the spiritual eye is," says Hilton, 
" the greatest scholar on earth cannot imagine by his wit, nor 
show fully by his tongue ; for it cannot be gotten by study, nor 
by man's industry alone, but principally by grace of the Holy 
Ghost and with human industry. I am afraid to speak any- 
thing of it, for methinketh that I cannot, it passeth my assay, 
and my lips are unclean. Nevertheless, because it seems to me 
that love asketh, yea, love biddeth that I should, therefore shall 
I say a little more of it, as I hope love teacheth. This opening 
of the spiritual eye is that lightsome darkness and rich nought 
that I spake of before, and it may be called purity of spirit and 
spiritual rest, inward stillness and peace of conscience, highness 
of thought and loneliness of soul, a lively feeling of grace and 

1 Par. xxii. 64. 2 " Dialogues of the Supersensual Life," p. 66. 



368 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

privity of heart, the watchful sleep of the spouse and tasting of 
heavenly savour, burning in love and shining in light, the entry 
of Contemplation and reforming in feeling . . . these be divers 
in show of words, yet are they all one in meaning and verity." x 

" Human industry," says Hilton here, must be joined to 
" grace." If the spiritual eye is to be opened work must be 
done. So long as the eye which looks upon Time " fills itself 
with things " and usurps the conscious field, that spiritual 
eye which " looks upon Eternity " can hardly act at all : and 
this eye must not only be opened, it must be trained, so that it 
may endure to gaze steadfastly at the Uncreated Light. This 
training and purging of the transcendental sight is described 
under many images ; " diverse in show of words, one in mean- 
ing and verity." Its essence is a progressive cleansing of the 
mirror, a progressive self-emptying of all that is not real, the 
attainment of that unified state of consciousness which will 
permit a pure, imageless apprehension of the final Reality 
which " hath no image " to be received by the self. " Naked 
orison," " emptiness," " nothingness," " entire surrender," " peace- 
ful love in life naughted," say the mystics again and again. 
Where apprehension of the divine comes by way of vision 
or audition, this is but a concession to human weakness ; a 
sign, they think, that the senses are not quite killed. It is 
a translation of the true tongue of angels into a dialect that 
they can understand. A steady abolition of sense imagery, a 
cutting off of all possible sources of illusion, all possible 
encouragements of selfhood and pride— the most fertile of all 
sources of deception — this is the condition of pure sight ; and 
the " degrees of orison," the " steep stairs of love " which they 
climb so painfully, are based upon this necessity. 

Now the terms used by individual mystics, the divisions 
which they adopt in describing the self's progress in this art of 
orison, are bewildering in their variety. Here, more than 
elsewhere, has the mania for classification obsessed them. 
We find, too, when we come to compare them one with 
another, that the language which they employ is not always 
so exact as it seems : that they do not all use the traditional 
terms in the same sense. Sometimes by the word " contempla- 
tion" they intend to describe the whole process of intro- 

1 Hilton, "The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. x. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 369 

version : sometimes they reserve it for the " orison of union," 
sometimes identify it with ecstasy. It has been pointed out 
by Delacroix that even St. Teresa's classification of her own 
states is far from lucid, and varies in each of her principal 
works. 1 Thus in the " Life " she appears to treat Recollection 
and Quiet as synonymous, whilst in " The Way of Perfection " 
these conditions are sharply differentiated. In " The Interior 
Castle " she adopts an entirely different system ; the orison of 
quiet being there called " tasting of God." 2 Finally, Augustine 
Baker, in treating of the " Prayer of Interior Silence and Quiet," 
insists that by the term " Quiet" St. Teresa did not mean this at 
all, but a form of " supernatural contemplation." 3 

Thus we are gradually forced to the conclusion that the 
so-called " degrees of orison " so neatly tabulated by ascetic 
writers are largely artificial and symbolic : that the process 
which they profess to describe is really, like life itself, one and 
continuous — not a stairway but a slope — and the parts into 
which they break it up are diagrammatic. Nearly every mystic 
makes these breaks in a different place, though continuing to 
use the language of his predecessors. In his efforts towards self- 
analysis he divides and subdivides, combines and differentiates 
his individual moods. Hence the confusion of mind which falls 
upon those who try to harmonize different systems of contempla- 
tion : to identify St. Teresa's " Four Degrees " 4 with Hugh of 
St. Victor's other four, 5 and with Richard of St. Victor's " four 
steps of ardent love " : 6 or to accommodate upon this diagram 
Hilton's simple and poetic " three steps of contemplation " 7 — 
Knowing ; Loving ; and Knowing and Loving — where the 
dreamer rather than the map-maker speaks. Such fine shades, 
says Augustine Baker in this connexion, are "nicely dis- 
tinguished " by the author " rather out of a particular experience 

1 " Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 18. 

2 Vida, cap. xiv. ; " Camino de Perfeccion," cap. xxxi. ; " El Castillo Interior," 
Moradas Cuartas, cap. ii. 

3 " Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § ii. cap. vii. 

4 Meditation, Quiet, a nameless "intermediate " degree, and the Orison of Union 
(Vida, cap. xi.). 

s Meditation, Soliloquy, Consideration, Rapture (Hugh of St. Victor, "De 
Contemplatione "). 

6 " De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis." Vide supra, p. 165. 

7 " The Scale of Perfection," bk. i. caps. iv. to viii. 
BB 



370 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

of the effects passing in his own soul, which perhaps are not the 
same in all " than for any more general reason. x 

Some diagram, however, some set scheme, the writer on 
introversion must have, if he is to describe with lucidity the 
development of the contemplative consciousness : and so long 
as the methodological nature of this diagram is kept in mind, 
there can be little objection to the use of it. I propose then 
to examine under three divisions that continuous and orderly 
stream of experience, that process of incessant change, by which 
the mystical consciousness is turned from visible to invisible 
things. We will give to these three divisions names which will 
be familiar to all readers of ascetic literature : Recollection, 
Quiet, and Contemplation. Each of these three parts of the 
introversive experience may be discerned in embryo in that little 
experiment at which the reader has been invited to assist : the 
act of concentration, the silence, the new perception which 
results. Each has a characteristic beginning which links it with 
its predecessor, and a characteristic end which shades off into 
the next state. Thus Recollection begins in Meditation and 
develops into the " Orison of Inward Silence," which again melts 
into the true " Quiet." " Quiet " as it becomes deeper passes 
into Infused Contemplation : and this grows through Contem- 
plation proper to that Orison of Passive Union which is the 
highest of the non-ecstatic introversive states. Merely to state 
the fact thus is to remind ourselves how smoothly continuous is 
this life-process of the soul. 

It is the object of orison, as it is the object of all education, 
to discipline and develop certain growing faculties. In this case, 
the faculties are those of the " transcendental self," the " new 
man " — all those powers which we associate with the " spiritual 
consciousness." The " Sons of God," however, like the sons of 
men, begin as babies ; and their first lessons must not be 
too hard. Therefore the educative process conforms to and 
takes advantage of every step of the natural process of growth : 
as we, in the education of our children, make the natural order 
in which their faculties develop the basis of our scheme of culti- 
vation. Recollection, Quiet, and Contemplation, then, answer 
to the order in which the mystic's powers unfold. Roughly 
speaking, we shall find that the form of spiritual attention which 

1 " Holy Wisdom," loc. cit. t § ii. cap. i. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 371 

is called " Meditative " or " Recollective " goes side by side 
with the Purification of the Self ; that " Quiet " tends to be 
characteristic of Illumination : that Contemplation — at any rate 
in its higher forms — is most constantly experienced by those 
who have attained, or nearly attained, the Unitive Way. At the 
same time, just as the self in its " first mystic life " before 
it has passed through the dark night of the will, often seems to 
run through the whole gamut of spiritual states, and attain that 
oneness with the Absolute which it seeks — though as a fact it 
has not yet reached those higher levels of consciousness on 
which true and permanent union takes place — so too in its 
orison. At any point in its career it may experience for brief 
periods that imageless and overpowering sense of identity with 
the Absolute Life — that loving and exalted absorption in 
God — which is called " passive union " and anticipates the con- 
sciousness which is characteristic of the deified life. Over and 
over again in its " prayerful process " it recapitulates in little 
the whole great process of its life. It runs up for an instant to 
levels where it is not yet strong enough to dwell. Therefore we 
must not be too strict in our identification of the grades of edu- 
cation with the stages of growth. 

This education, rightly understood, is pne coherent process : 
it consists in a steady and voluntary surrender of the awakened 
consciousness, its feeling, thought, and will, to the play of those 
transcendental influences, that inflowing vitality, which it con- 
ceives of as divine. In the preparative process of Recollec- 
tion, the unruly mind is brought into harmony. In M Quiet " 
the eager will is silenced, the " wheel of imagination " is 
stilled. In Contemplation, the heart at last comes to its own — 
Cor ad cor loquitur. In their - simplest, crudest forms, these- 
three acts are the deliberate concentration upon, the meek 
resting in, the joyous communing with, the ineffable Object 
of man's quest. They involve a progressive concentration of the 
mystic's powers, a gradual handing over of the reins from 
the surface intelligence to the deeper mind, a progressive 
reception of the inflowing Spirit of God. In Recollection 
the surface-mind still holds, so to speak, the leading strings : 
but in " Quiet " it surrenders them wholly, allowing conscious- 
ness to sink into that "blissful silence in which God works 
and speaks." This act of surrender, this deliberate nega- 



372 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

tion of thought, is an essential preliminary of the contemplative 
state. " Lovers put out the candles and draw the curtains when 
they wish to see the god and the goddess ; and in the higher 
communion the night of thought is the light of perception." 1 

The education of the self in the different degrees of orison 
has been compared by St. Teresa, in a celebrated * passage in 
her Life, to four ways of watering the garden of the soul so 
that it may bring forth its flowers and fruits. 2 The first and 
most primitive of these ways is meditation. This, she says, is 
like drawing water by hand from a deep well : the slowest and 
most laborious of all means of irrigation. Next to this is 
the orison of quiet, which is a little better and easier : for here 
soul seems to receive some help, i.e., with the stilling of the senses 
the subliminal faculties are brought into play. The well has 
now been fitted with a windlass — that little Moorish water-wheel 
possessed by every Castilian farm. Hence we get more water 
for the energy we expend : more sense of reality in exchange 
for our abstraction from the unreal. Also " the water is higher, 
and accordingly the labour is much less than it was when the 
water had to be drawn out of the depths of the well. I 
mean that the water is nearer to it, for grace now reveals itself 
more distinctly to the soul." In the third stage we leave all 
voluntary activities of the mind : the gardener no longer depends 
on his own exertions, contact between subject and object is 
established, there is no more stress and strain. It is as if a little 
river now ran through our garden and watered it. We have but 
to direct the stream. In the fourth and highest stage God 
Himself waters our garden with rain from heaven " drop by 
drop." The attitude of the self is now that of perfect 
receptivity, " passive contemplation," loving trust. Individual 
activity is sunk in the " great life of the All." 

Now the measure of the mystic's real progress is and must 
always be the measure of his love : for his apprehension is an 
apprehension of the heart. His education, his watering of 
the garden of the soul, is a cultivation of this one flower — this 
Rosa Mystica which has its root in God. The degrees of 
his orison, then, will be accompanied step by step by those other 
degrees of exalted feeling-states which Richard of St. Victor 

1 Coventry Patmore, "The Rod, the Root, and the Flower," " Aurea Dicta," xiii, 
8 Vida, cap, ii. §§ io and n. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 373 

called the Degrees of Ardent Love. Without their presence, all 
the drill in the world will not bring him to the true contempla- 
tive state, though it may easily produce abnormal powers 
of perception of the kind familiar to students of the occult. 

Our theory of mystic education, then, turns out to be very 
like our theory of mystic life. In both, there is a progressive 
surrender of selfhood under the steady advance of conquering 
love ; a stilling of the " I, the Me, the Mine," which is linked by 
all the senses, and by all its own desires, to the busy world of 
visible things. This progressive surrender appears in the prac- 
tice of orison as a progressive inward retreat from circumference 
to centre ; to that ground of the soul, that substantial somewhat 
in man, deep buried for most of us beneath the great rubbish- 
heap of our surface-interests, where human life and divine life 
meet. To clear away the rubbish-heap so that he may get 
down to this treasure-house is from one point of view the initial 
task of the contemplative. This clearing away is the first part 
of " introversion " : that journey inwards to his own centre 
where, stripped of all his cleverness and merit, reduced to his 
" nothingness," he can " meet God without intermediary." This 
ground of the soul, this strange inward sanctuary to which the 
normal man so seldom penetrates, is, says Eckhart, "imme- 
diately receptive of the Divine Being," and " no one can move it 
but God alone." 1 There the finite self encounters the Infinite; 
and, by a close and loving communion with and feeding on the 
attributes of the Divine Substance, is remade in the interests 
of the Absolute Life. This encounter, the consummation ot 
mystical culture, is what we mean by contemplation in its 
highest form. Here we are on the verge of that great self- 
merging act which is of the essence of pure love : which Reality 
has sought of us, and we have unknowingly desired of It. 
Here contemplation and union are one. " Thus do we grow," 
says Ruysbroeck, " and, carried above ourselves, above reason, 
into the very heart of love, there do we feed according to the 
spirit ; and taking flight for the Godhead by naked love, we go 
to the encounter of the Bridegroom, to the encounter of His 
Spirit, which is His love ; and this immense love burns and con- 
sumes us in the spirit, and draws us into that union where bliss 
awaits us." 2 

1 Pred. i. 2 Ruysbroeck, " De Contemplatione " (Hello, p. 153). 



374 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 



Recollection 

The beginning of the process of introversion, the first 
mechanical act in which the self turns round towards the inward 
path, will not merely be the yielding to an instinct, the indul- 
gence of a natural taste for reverie ; it will be a voluntary and 
purposeful undertaking. Like conversion, it entails a break 
with the obvious, which must, of necessity, involve and affect 
the whole normal consciousness. It will be evoked by the 
mystic's love, and directed by his reason ; but can only be 
accomplished by the strenuous exercise of his will. These 
preparatory labours of the contemplative life — these first steps 
upon the ladder — are, says St. Teresa, very hard, and require 
greater courage than all the rest. 1 All the scattered interests 
of the self have here to be collected ; there must be a deliberate 
and unnatural act of attention, a deliberate expelling of all dis- 
cordant images from the consciousness — a hard and ungrateful 
task. Since, at this point, the transcendental faculties are still 
young and weak, the senses not wholly mortified, it needs a 
stern determination, a " wilful choice," if we are to succeed in 
concentrating our attention upon the whispered messages from 
within, undistracted by the loud voices which besiege us from 
without. 

" How," says the Disciple to the Master in one of Boehme's 
" Dialogues," " am I to seek in the Centre this Fountain of 
Light which may enlighten me throughout and bring my 
properties into perfect harmony? I am in Nature, as I said 
before, and which way shall I pass through Nature and the 
light thereof, so that I may come into the supernatural and 
supersensual ground whence this true Light, which is the Light 
of Minds, doth arise ; and this without the destruction of my 
nature, or quenching the Light of it, which is my reason? 

"Master. Cease but from thine own activity, steadfastly 
fixing thine Eye upon one Point. . . . For this end, gather in 
all thy thoughts, and by faith press into the Centre, laying hold 
upon the Word of God, which is infallible and which hath called 
thee. Be thou obedient to this call, and be silent before the 
Lord, sitting alone with Him in thy inmost and most hidden 

1 Vida, cap. xi. § 17. 






INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 375 

cell, thy mind being centrally united in itself, and attending His 
Will in the patience of hope. So shall thy Light break forth 
as the morning, and after the redness thereof is passed, the Sun 
himself, which thou waitest for, shall arise unto thee, and under 
his most healing wings thou shalt greatly rejoice : ascending 
and descending in his bright and health-giving beams. Behold 
this is the true Supersensual Ground of Life." z 

In this short paragraph Boehme has caught and described 
the psychological state in which all introversion must begin : 
the primary simplification of consciousness — the steadfast fixing 
the soul's eye upon one point ; the turning inwards of the whole 
conative powers for a purpose rather believed in than known, 
" by faith pressing into the centre." 

The unfortunate word Recollection, which the hasty reader is 
apt to connect with remembrance, is the traditional term by 
which mystical writers define just such a voluntary concentra- 
tion, such a first collecting or gathering in of the attention of 
the self to its " most hidden cell." That self is as yet unac- 
quainted with the strange, changeless, and indescribable plane 
of silence which so soon becomes familiar to those who attempt 
even the lowest activities of the contemplative life ; where the 
noises of the world are never heard, and the great adventures 
of the spirit take place. It stands here between two planes of 
being ; the Eye of Time is still awake. It knows that it wants 
to enter the inner world, that " interior palace where the King 
of Kings is guest " 2 : but it must find some device to help it 
over the threshold — rather, in the language of modern psycho- 
logy, to shift that threshold and permit its subliminal intuition 
of the Absolute to emerge. 

This device is as a rule the practice of meditation, in which 
the state of Recollection usually begins : that is to say, the 
deliberate consideration of and dwelling upon some one aspect 
of Reality — an aspect most usually chosen from amongst the 
religious beliefs of the self. Thus Hindu mystics will brood 
upon a sacred word, whilst Christian contemplatives set before 
their minds one of the names or attributes of God, a fragment 
of Scripture, an incident of the life of Christ ; and allow — 
indeed encourage — this consideration, and the ideas and feelings 

1 " Dialogues of the Supersensual Life," p. 56. 

2 St. Teresa, " Camino de Perfeccion," cap. xxx. 



376 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

which flow from it, to occupy the whole mental field. This 
powerful suggestion, kept before the consciousness by an act 
of will, overpowers the stream of small suggestions which the 
outer world pours incessantly upon the mind. The self, con- 
centrated upon this image or idea, dwelling on it more than 
thinking about it, as one may gaze upon a picture that one 
loves, falls gradually and insensibly into the condition of 
reverie ; and, protected by this holy day-dream from the more 
distracting dream of life, sinks into itself, and becomes in the 
language of asceticism " recollected " or gathered together. 
Although it is deliberately ignoring the whole of its usual 
" external universe," its faculties are wide awake : all have had 
their part in the wilful production of this state of consciousness : 
and this it is which marks off meditation and recollection from 
the higher or "infused" degrees of orison. 

Such meditation as this, says Richard of St. Victor, is the 
activity proper to a mystic who has attained the first degree of 
ardent love. By it, " God enters into the mind," and " the mind 
also enters into itself" ; and thus receives in its inmost cell the 
"first visit of the Beloved." It is a kind of half-way house 
between the perception of Appearance and the perception of 
Reality. To one in whom this state is established consciousness 
seems like a blank field, save for the " one point " in its centre, 
the subject of the meditation. Towards this focus the intro- 
versive self seems to press inwards from every side ; still faintly 
conscious of the buzz of the external world outside its ramparts, 
but refusing to respond to its appeals. Presently the subject of 
meditation begins to take on a new significance ; to glow with 
life and light. The contemplative suddenly feels that he knows 
it, in the complete, vital, but indescribable way in which one 
knows a friend. More, that through it hints are coming to him 
of mightier, nameless things. It ceases to be a picture, and 
becomes a window through which, by straining all his facul- 
ties, the mystic peers out into the spiritual universe and appre- 
hends to some extent — though how, he knows not — the veritable 
presence of God. " 

In these meditative and recollective states, the self still feels 
very clearly the edge of its own personality : its separateness 
from the Somewhat Other, the divine reality set "over against 
the soul. It is aware of that reality : the subject of its medita- 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 377 

tion becomes a symbol through which it receives a distinct 
message from the transcendental world. But there is yet no 
conscious fusion with a greater Life ; no resting in the divine 
atmosphere as in the " Quiet " ; no involuntary and ecstatic 
lifting up of the soul to direct apprehension of truth, as in con- 
templation. Recollection is a perfectly definite psychic cond^ 
tion, which has perfectly logical psychic results. Originally 
induced by meditation, or the dreamy pondering upon certain 
aspects of the Real, it develops, by way of the strenuous control 
exercised by the will over the understanding, a power of cutting 
the connexion between the self and the external world, and 
retreating at will to the inner world of the spirit. 

"True recollection," says St. Teresa, "has characteristics 
by which it can be easily recognized. It produces a certain 
effect which I do not know how to explain, but which is well 
understood by those who have experienced it. ... It is true 
that recollection has several degrees, and that in the beginning 
these great effects are not felt, because it is not yet pro- 
found enough. But support the pains which you first feel in 
recollecting yourself, despise the rebellion of nature, overcome 
the resistance of the body, which loves a liberty which is its 
ruin, learn self-conquest, persevere thus for a time, and you will 
perceive very clearly the advantages which you gain from it. 
As soon as you apply yourself to orison, you will at once feel 
your senses gather themselves together : they seem like bees 
which return to the hive and there shut themselves up to work 
at the making of honey : and this will take place without effort 
or care on your part. God thus rewards the violence which 
your soul has been doing to itself; and gives to it such a 
domination over the senses that a sign is enough when it desires 
to recollect itself, for them to obey and so gather themselves 
together. At the first call of the will, they come back more and 
more quickly. At last after many and many exercises of this 
kind, God disposes them to a state of absolute repose and of 
perfect contemplation." * 

Such a description as this makes it clear that "recollection" 

is a form of spiritual gymnastics ; less valuable for itself than 

for the training which it gives, the powers which it develops. 

In it, says St. Teresa again, the soul enters with its God into 

1 " Camino de Perfection," cap. xxx. 



378 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM - 

that Paradise which is within itself, and shuts the door behind 
it upon all the things of the world. " You should know, my 
daughters," she continues, " that this is no supernatural act, but 
depends upon our will, and that therefore we can do it with that 
ordinary assistance of God which we need for all our acts and 
even for our good thoughts. For here we are not concerned 
with the silence of the faculties, but with a simple retreat of 
these powers into the ground of the soul. There are various 
ways of arriving at it, and these ways are described in different 
books. There it is said that we must abstract the mind from 
exterior things, in order that we may inwardly approach God : 
that even in our work we ought to retire within ourselves, 
though it be only for a moment : that this remembrance of a 
God who companions us within, is a great help to us ; finally, 
that we ought little by little to habituate ourselves to gentle and 
silent converse with Him, so that He may make us feel His 
presence in the soul." * 

Quiet 

More important for us, because more characteristically 
mystical, is the next great stage of orison : that curious and 
extremely definite mental state which mystics call the Interior 
Silence, or " Orison of Quiet." This represents the results for 
consciousness of a further degree of that inward retreat which 
Recollection began. 

Out of the deep, slow brooding and pondering on some 
mystery, some incomprehensible link between himself and the 
Real, the contemplative — perhaps by way of a series of moods 
which his analytic powers may cause him "nicely to distinguish" 
— glides, almost insensibly, on to a plane of perception for 
which human speech has few equivalents. It is a plane which 
is apparently characterized by an immense increase in the 
receptivity of the self, and by an almost complete suspension 
of the reflective powers. The strange silence which is the 
outstanding quality of this state — almost the only note in regard 
to it which the surface-intelligence can secure — is not describable. 
Here, as Samuel Rutherford said of another of life's secrets, 
" Come and see will tell you much : come nearer will say more." 

1 Op. at., cap. xxxi. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 379 

Here the self has passed beyond the stage at which its per- 
ceptions are capable of being dealt with by thought. It cannot 
any longer " take notes " : can only surrender itself to the stream 
of an inflowing life, and to the direction of a larger will. Busy, 
teasing, utilitarian thought would only interfere with this process: 
as it interferes with the vital processes of the body if it once 
gets them under its control. That thought, then, already 
disciplined by Recollection, gathered up, and forced to work in 
the interests of the transcendental mind, is now to be entirely 
inhibited. 

As Recollection becomes deeper, the self slides into a 
dreamy consciousness of the Infinite. The door tight shut on 
the sensual world, it becomes aware that it is immersed in a 
more real world which it cannot define. It rests quietly in this 
awareness : quite silent, utterly at peace. In the place of the 
struggles for complete concentration which mark the beginning 
of Recollection, there is now an entire surrender of the will and 
activity, of the very power of choice : and with this surrender to 
something bigger, as with the surrender of conversion, comes an 
immense relief of strain. This is " Quiet " in its most perfect 
form : this sinking, as it were, of the little child of the Infinite 
into its Father's arms. 

The giving up of I-hood, the process of self-stripping, which 
we have seen to be the very essence of the purification of the 
self, finds its correspondence in this part of the contemplative 
experience. Here, in this complete cessation of man's proud 
effort to do somewhat of himself, Humility, who rules the Fourth 
Degree of Love, begins to be known in her paradoxical beauty 
and power. Consciousness here loses to find, and dies that it 
may live. No longer, in Rolle's pungent phrase, is it a 
"Raunsaker of the myghte of Godd and of His Majeste." 1 
Thus the act by which it passes into the Quiet is a sacrament 
of the whole mystic quest : of the turning from doing to 
being, the abolition of separateness in the interests of the 
Absolute Life. 

The state of " Quiet," we have said, entails an utter suspension 

of the surface-consciousness : yet consciousness of the subject's 

irsonality remains. It follows, generally, on a period of 

leliberate and loving recollection, of a slow and steady with- 

1 Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle (E.E.T.S. 20), p. 42. 



380 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

drawal of the attention from the channels of sense. To one 
who is entering into this state of orison, the external world 
seems to get further and further away : till at last nothing but 
the paramount fact of his own existence remains. So startling, 
very often, is the deprivation of all his accustomed mental 
furniture, of the noise and flashing of the transmitting instru- 
ments of sense, that the negative aspect of his state dominates 
consciousness ; and he can but describe it as a nothingness, an 
emptiness, a " naked " orison. He is there, as it were poised, 
resting, waiting, he does not know for what : only he is conscious 
that all, even in this utter emptiness, is well. Presently, how- 
ever, he becomes aware that Something fills this emptiness ; 
something omnipresent, intangible, like sunny air. Ceasing to 
attend to the messages from without, he begins to notice That 
which has always been within. His whole being is thrown open 
to its influence : it permeates his consciousness. 

There are, then, two aspects of the Orison of Quiet : the 
aspect of deprivation, of emptiness which begins it, and the 
aspect of acquisition, of something found, in which it is complete. 
In its description, all mystics will be found to lean to one side 
or the other, to the affirmative or negative element which it 
contains. The austere mysticism of Eckhart and his followers, 
their temperamental sympathy with the Neoplatonic language 
of Dionysius the Areopagite, caused them to describe it — and 
also very often the higher state of contemplation to which it 
leads — as above all things an emptiness, a sublime dark, an 
ecstatic deprivation. They will not profane its deep satisfactions 
by the inadequate terms proper to earthly peace and joy : and, 
true to their school, fall back on the paradoxically suggestive 
powers of negation. To St. Teresa, and mystics of her type, on 
the other hand, even a little and inadequate image of its rapture 
seems better than none. To them it is a sweet calm, a gentle 
silence, in which the lover apprehends the presence of the 
Beloved : a God-given state, over which the self has little control. 

In Eckhart's writings enthusiastic descriptions of the Quiet, 
of inward silence and passivity, as the fruit of a deliberate 
recollection, abound. In his view, this psychical state of Quiet 
is pre-eminently that in which the soul of man begins to be 
united with its "ground," Pure Being. The emptying of the 
field of consciousness, its cleansing of all images — even of 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 381 

those symbols of Reality which are the subjects of meditation — 
is the necessary condition under which alone this encounter 
can take place. 

" The soul," he says, " with all its powers, has divided and 
scattered itself in outward things, each according to its functions : 
the power of sight in the eye, the power of hearing in the ear, 
the power of taste in the tongue, and thus they are the less able 
to work inwardly, for every power which is divided is imperfect. 
So the soul, if she would work inwardly, must call home all her 
powers and collect them from all divided things to one inward 
work. . . . If a man will work an inward work, he must pour all 
his powers into himself as into a corner of the soul, and must 
hide himself from all images and forms, and then he can work. 
Then he must come into a forgetting and a not-knowing. He 
must be in a stillness and silence, where the Word may be 
heard. One cannot draw near to this Word better than by 
stillness and silence : then it is heard and understood in utter 
ignorance. When one knows nothing it is opened and revealed. 
Then we shall become aware of the Divine Ignorance, and our 
ignorance will be ennobled and adorned with supernatural know- 
ledge. And when we simply keep ourselves receptive, we are 
more perfect than when at work." » 

The psychic state of Quiet has a further value for the mystic, 
as being the intellectual complement and expression of the 
moral state of humility and receptivity : the very condition, 
says Eckhart, of the New Birth. " It may be asked whether 
this Birth is best accomplished in Man when he does his work 
and forms and thinks himself into God, or when he keeps 
himself in Silence, stillness and peace, so that God may speak 
and work in him ; . . . the best and noblest way in which thou 
mayst come into this work and life is by keeping silence and 
letting God work and speak. When all the powers are with- 
drawn from their work and images, there is this word spoken." 2 

Eckhart's view of the primary importance of " Quiet " as 
essentially the introverted state is shared by all those mediaeval 
mystics who lay stress on the psychological rather than the 
objective aspect of the spiritual life. They regard it as the 
necessary preliminary of all contemplation ; and describe it as 
a normal phase of the inner experience, possible of attainment 
1 Meister Eckhart, Pied. ii. 2 Ibid., Pred. i. 



382 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

by all those who have sufficiently disciplined themselves in 
patience, recollection, and humility. 

In a certain old English mystical work which still remains 
in MS. — one of that group of treatises of the fourteenth century 
of which " The Cloud of Unknowing " is the best known — there 
is a curious and detailed instruction on the disposition of mind 
proper to this orison of silence. It clearly owes much to the 
teaching of the Areopagite, something perhaps to Eckhart 
himself, and something surely — if we may judge by its vivid 
and exact instructions — to personal experience. " When thou 
comest by thyself," says the master to the disciple for whom 
this " pystle " was composed, " think not before what thou shalt 
do after : but forsake as well good thoughts as evil thoughts, 
and pray not with thy mouth, but lift thee right well. . . . And 
look that nothing live in thy working mind but a naked intent 
stretching unto God, not clothed in any special thought of God 
in thyself, how He is in Himself or in any of His works, but 
only that He is as He is. Let Him be so, I pray thee, and 
make Him on none otherwise speech nor search in Him by 
subtilty of wit : but believe by thy ground. This naked intent 
freely fastened and grounded by very belief, shall be nought else 
to thy thought and thy feeling but a naked thought and a blind 
feeling of thine own being. . . . That darkness be thy mirror 
and thy mind whole. Think no further of thyself than I bid 
thee do of thy God, so that thou be oned with Him in spirit as 
in thought, without departing and scattering, for he is thy being 
and in Him thou art that thou art : not only by cause and by 
being, but also He is in thee both thy cause and thy being. 
And therefore think on God as in this work as thou dost on 
thyself, and on thyself as thou dost on God, that He is as He is 
and thou art as thou art, and that thy thought be not scattered 
nor departed but privied in Him that is All." x 

" Let Him be so, I pray thee ! " It is an admonition against 
spiritual worry, an entreaty to the individual, already at work 
twisting experience to meet his own conceptions, to let things 
be as they are, to receive and be content. Leave off doing, that 
you may be. Leave off analysis, that you may know. " That 
meek darkness be thy mirror " — humble receptivity is the 
watchword of this state. "In this," says Eckhart finely, "the 
1 "An Epistle of Private Counsel" (B.M. Harl. 674). 






INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 383 

soul is of equal capacity with God. As God is boundless in 
giving, so the soul is boundless in receiving. And as God is 
almighty in His work, so the soul is an abyss of receptivity : 
and so she is formed anew with God and in God. . . . The 
disciples of St. Dionysius asked him why Timotheus surpassed 
them all in perfection. Then said Dionysius, ' Timotheus is 
receptive of God.' And thus thine ignorance is not a defect 
but thy highest perfection, and thine inactivity thy highest work. 
And so in this work thou must bring all thy works to nought 
and all thy powers into silence, if thou wilt in truth experience 
this birth within thyself." « 

It is interesting to contrast these descriptions of the Quiet, 
with St. Teresa's temperamental reaction on the same psycho- 
logical state. Where the English mystic's teaching is full of an 
implied appeal to the will, the Spanish saint is all for the 
involuntary, or, as she would call it, the " supernatural " actions 
of the soul. " This true orison of quiet," she says, " has in it an 
element of the supernatural. We cannot, in spite of all our 
efforts, procure it for ourselves. It is a sort of peace in which 
the soul establishes herself, or rather in which God establishes 
the soul, as He did the righteous Simeon. All her powers are 
at rest. She understands, but otherwise than by the senses, that 
she is already near her God, and that if she draws a little nearer, 
she will become by union one with Him. She does not see this 
with the eyes of the body, nor with the eyes of the soul. . . . 
It is like the repose of a traveller who, within sight of the goal, 
stops to take breath, and then continues with new strength upon 
his way. One feels a great bodily comfort, a great satisfaction 
of soul : such is the happiness of the soul in seeing herself close 
to the spring, that even without drinking of the waters she finds 
herself refreshed. It seems to her that she wants nothing more : 
the faculties which are at rest would like always to remain still, 
for the least of their movements is able to trouble or prevent her 
love. Those who are in this orison wish their bodies to remain 
motionless, for it seems to them that at the least movement 
they will lose this sweet peace . . . they are in the palace close 
to their King, and they see that He begins to give them His 
kingdom. It seems to them that they are no longer in the 
world, and they wish neither to hear nor to see it, but only 

1 Eckhart, Pred. ii. 



384 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

God. . . . There is this difference between the orison of 
quiet and that in which the whole soul is united to God ; 
that in this last the soul has not to absorb the Divine Food, 
God deposits it with her, she knows not how. The orison 
of quiet, on the other hand, demands, it seems to me, a 
slight effort, but it is accompanied by so much sweetness 
that one hardly feels it." x 

" A slight effort," says St. Teresa. " A naked intent 
stretching," says the "Pystle of Private Counsel." In these 
words lies the difference between the true and healthy mystic 
state of " Quiet " and its . morbid perversion in " Quietism " : 
the difference between the tense stillness of the athlete and 
the limp passivity of the sluggard, who is really lazy, though 
he looks resigned. True " Quiet " is a means, not an end : 
is actively embraced, not passively endured. It is an incident 
in the self s growth in contemplation ; a bridge which leads 
from its old and unco-ordinated life of activity to its new, 
unified life of deep action — the real "mystic life" of man. 
This state is desired by the mystic, not in order that conscious- 
ness may remain a blank, but in order that the "Word 
which is Alive " may be written thereon. Too often, however, 
this primary fact has been ignored, and the Interior Silence 
has been put by wayward transcendentalists to other and 
less admirable use. 

" Quiet " is the danger-zone of introversion. Of ,all the 
forms of mystical activity, perhaps this has been the most 
abused, the least understood. Its theory, seized upon, 
divorced from its context, and developed to excess, produced 
the foolish and dangerous exaggerations of Quietism : and 
these, in their turn, caused a wholesale condemnation of the 
principle of passivity, and made many superficial persons 
regard " naked orison " as an essentially heretical act. 2 The 
accusation of Quietism has been hurled at many mystics 
whose only fault was a looseness of language which laid 
them open to misapprehension. Others, however, have 
certainly contrived, by a perversion and isolation of the 

1 " Camino de Perfeccion," cap. xxxiii. The whole chapter, which is a marvel 
of subtle analysis, should be read in this connexion. 

2 Note, for instance, the cautious language of " Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § iii. 
cap. vii. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 385 

teachings of great contemplatives on this point, to justify 
the deliberate production of a half-hypnotic state of passivity. 
With this meaningless state of "absorption in nothing at all" 
they were content ; claiming that in it they were in touch 
with the divine life, and therefore exempt from the usual 
duties and limitations of human existence. "Quietism," 
usually, and rather unfairly, spoken of in connexion with 
Madame Guyon, already existed in a far more dangerous 
and perverted form in the Middle Ages : and was denounced 
with violence by Ruysbroeck, one of the greatest masters of 
true introversion whom the Christian world has known. 

" It is important, in the spiritual life," he says, " that we 
should know, denounce, and crush all quietism. These quietists 
remain in a state of utter passivity, and in order that they may 
the more tranquilly enjoy their false repose they abstain from 
every interior and exterior act. Such a repose is treason to 
God, a crime of lese-majeste. Quietism blinds a man, plunging 
him into that ignorance which is not superior, but inferior, to all 
knowledge : such a man remains seated within himself, useless 
and inert. This repose is simply laziness, and this tranquillity is 
forgetfulness of God, one's self and one's neighbour. It is the 
exact opposite of the divine peace, the opposite of the peace of 
the Abyss ; of that marvellous peace which is full of activity, full of 
affection, full of desire, full of seeking, that burning and insatiable 
peace which we pursue more and more after we have found it. 
Between the peace of the heights and the quietism of the depths 
there is all the difference that exists between God and a mis- 
taken creature. Horrible error! Men seek it themselves, they 
establish themselves comfortably within themselves, and no 
longer seek God even by their desires. Yet it is not He whom 
they possess in their deceitful repose." x 

There can be no doubt that for selves of a certain psychical 
constitution, this " deceitful repose " is only too easy of attain- 
ment. They can by wilful self-suggestion deliberately produce 
this emptiness, this inward silence, and luxuriate in its 
peaceful effects. To do this from self-regarding motives, or to 
do it to excess — to let " peaceful enjoyment " swamp " active 
love " — is a mystical vice : and this perversion of the spiritual 

1 Hello, p. 17. Hello has here condensed Ruysbroeck's teaching on this point, 
which fills the last four chapters of bk. ii. of" L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles. " 
CC 



386 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

faculties, like perversion of the natural faculties, brings de- 
generation in its train. It leads to the absurdities of " holy 
indifference," and ends in the complete stultification of the 
mental and moral life. The true mystic never tries deliberately 
to enter the orison of quiet : with St. Teresa, he regards it as a 
supernatural gift, beyond his control, though fed* by his will and 
love. That is to say, where it exists in a healthy form, it exists 
as a natural though involuntary state the result of normal de- 
velopment ; not as a self-induced one, a psychic trick. 

The balance to be struck in this stage of introversion can 
only be expressed, it seems, in paradox. The true condition of 
quiet, according to the great mystics, is at once active and 
passive : it is pure surrender, but a surrender which is not limp 
self-abandonment, but rather the free and constantly renewed 
self-giving and self-emptying of a burning love. The depart- 
mental intellect is silenced, but the totality of character is flung 
open to the influence of the Real. Personality is not lost : only 
its hard edge is gone. A " rest most busy," says Hilton. Like 
the soaring of an eagle, says Augustine Baker, when " the flight 
is continued for a good space with a great swiftness, but withal 
with great stillness, quietness and ease, without any waving of 
the wings at all, or the least force used in any member, being in 
as much ease and stillness as if she were reposing in her nest." x 

" According to the unanimous teaching of the most experi- 
enced and explicit of the specifically Theistic and Christian 
mystics," says Von Hiigel, " the appearance, the soul's own 
impression, of a cessation of life and energy of the soul in 
periods of special union with God, or of great advance in spiritu- 
ality, is an appearance only. Indeed this, at such times strong, 
impression of rest springs most certainly from an unusually large 
amount of actualized energy, an energy which is now penetra- 
ting, and finding expression by every pore and fibre of the soul. 
The whole moral and spiritual creature expands and rests, yes ; 
but this very rest is produced by Action, " unperceived because 
so fleet, so near, so all-fulfilling." 2 

The great teachers of Quietism, having arrived at and ex- 
perienced the psychological state of " quiet " : having known the 
ineffable peace and certainty, the bliss which follows on its act 

1 " Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § iii. cap. vii. 

2 Von Hiigel, " The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. ii. p. 132. 






INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 387 

of complete surrender, its utter and speechless resting in the 
Absolute Life, believed themselves to have discovered in this 
half-way house the goal of the mystic quest. Therefore, whilst 
much of their teaching remains true, as a real description of a 
real and valid state experienced by almost all contemplatives in 
the course of their development, the inference which they drew 
from it, that in this mere blank abiding in the deeps the soul had 
reached the end of her course, was untrue and bad for life. 

Thus Molinos gives in the Spiritual Guide many unex- 
ceptional maxims upon Interior Silence : " By not speaking nor 
desiring, and not thinking," he says justly enough of the contem- 
plative spirit, " she arrives at the true and perfect mystical silence 
wherein God speaks with the soul, communicates Himself to it, 
and in the abyss of its own depth teaches it the most perfect and 
exalted wisdom. He calls and guides it to this inward solitude 
and mystical silence, when He says that He will speak to it 
alone in the most secret and hidden part of the heart." Here 
Molinos speaks the language of all mystics, yet the total result 
of his teaching was to suggest to the ordinary mind that there 
was a peculiar virtue in doing nothing at all, and that all 
deliberate spiritual activities were bad. 1 

A good deal of the pseudo-mysticism which is industriously 
preached at the present time is thus crudely quietistic. It 
speaks much of the necessity of " going into the silence," and 
even, with a strange temerity, gives preparatory lessons in sub- 
conscious meditation : a proceeding which might well provoke 
the laughter of the saints. The faithful, being gathered to- 
gether, are taught by simple exercises in recollection the way 
to attain the "Quiet." By this mental trick the modern tran- 
scendentalist naturally attains to a state of vacant placidity, in 
which he rests : and " remaining in a distracted idleness and 
misspending the time in expectation of extraordinary visits," 
believes — with a faith which many of the orthodox might envy 
— that he is here " united with his Principle." But, though the 
psychological state which contemplatives call the orison of quiet is 
a very common condition of mystical attainment, it is not by itself 
mystical at all. It is a state of preparation : a way of opening 
the door. That which comes in when the door is opened will 

1 He goes so far as to say in one of his " condemned " propositions, " Oportet 
hominem suas potentias annihilare," and " velle operari active est Deum offendere." 



388 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

be that which we truly and passionately desire. The will makes 
plain the way : the heart — the whole man — conditions the guest. 
The true contemplative, coming to this plane of utter stillness, 
does not desire " extraordinary favours and visitations," but the 
privilege of breathing for a little while the atmosphere of Love. 
He is about that which St. Bernard called " the business of all 
businesses " : goes, in perfect simplicity, to the encounter of 
Perfection, not to the development of himself. 

So, even at this — seemingly the most " passive " — stage of 
his progress, his operations are found on analysis to have a 
dynamic and purposive character : his very repose is the result 
of stress. He is a pilgrim that still seeks his country. Urged 
by his innate tendency to transcendence, he is on his way to 
higher levels, more sublime fulfilments, greater self-giving acts. 
Though he may have forsaken all superficial activity, deep, 
urgent action still remains. "The possession of God," says 
Ruysbroeck, " demands and supposes perpetual activity. He 
who thinks otherwise deceives himself and others. All our 
life as it is in God is immersed in blessedness : all our life as it 
is in ourselves is immersed in activity. And these two lives 
form one, self-contradictory in its attributes ; rich and poor, 
hungry and fulfilled, active and quiet." 1 The essential differ- 
ence between this true " active " Quiet and Quietism of all 
kinds has been admirably expressed by Baron von Hiigel. 
" Quietism, the doctrine of the One Act ; passivity in a literal 
sense, as the absence or imperfection of the power or use of 
initiative on the soul's part, in any and every state ; these doc- 
trines were finally condemned, and most rightly and necessarily 
condemned ; the Prayer of Quiet and the various states and 
degrees of an ever-increasing predominance of Action over 
Activity — an action which is all the more the soul's very own, 
because the more occasioned, directed, and informed by God's 
action and stimulation — these and the other chief lines of the 
ancient experience and practice remain as true, correct, and 
necessary as ever." 3 

The " ever - increasing predominance of Action over 
Activity" — the deep and vital movement of the whole 
self, too deeply absorbed for self-consciousness, set over 



1 " De Contemplatione," Hello, p. 147. 

2 " The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. ii. p. 143. 






INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 389 

against its fussy surface-energies — here is the true ideal of 
orison. This must inform all the self's effort towards union 
with the absolute Life and Love which waits at the door. It is 
an ideal which includes Quiet as surely as it excludes 
Quietism. 

As for that doctrine of the One Act here mentioned, which 
was preached by the more extreme quietists ; it, like all else in 
this movement, was the perversion of a great mystical truth. It 
taught that the turning of the soul towards Reality, the 
merging of the will in God, which is the very heart of the 
mystic life, was One Act, never to be repeated. This done, the 
self had nothing more to do but to rest in the Divine Life, be 
its unresisting instrument. Pure passivity and indifference 
were its ideal. All activity was forbidden it, all choice 
was a negation of its surrender, all striving was unneces- 
sary and wrong. It needed only to rest for ever more 
and "let God work and speak in the silence." This 
doctrine is so utterly at variance with all that we know of 
the laws of life and growth, that it hardly seems to stand in need 
of condemnation. Such a state of indifference — which the 
quietists strove in vain to identify with that state of Pure Love 
which " seeketh not its own " in spiritual things — cannot 
coexist with any of those " degrees of ardent charity " through 
which man's spirit must pass on its journey to the One : and 
this alone is enough to prove its non-mystical character. 

It is only fair to Madame Guyon to say that she cannot 
justly be charged with preaching this exaggeration of passivity, 
whatever inferences a loose and fluid style may have allowed 
her enemies and more foolish followers to draw from her works. 
"Some persons," she says, "when they hear of the orison of 
quiet, falsely imagine that the soul remains stupid, dead, and 
inactive. But unquestionably it acteth therein, more nobly and 
more extensively than it had ever done before, for God Himself 
is the Mover and the soul now acteth by the agency of His 
Spirit. . . . Instead, then, of promoting idleness, we promote 
the highest activity, by inculcating a total dependence on 
the Spirit of God as our moving principle, for in Him we live 
and move and have our being. This meek dependence on the 
Spirit of God is indispensably necessary to reinitiate the soul in 
its primeval unity and simplicity, that it may thereby attain the 



390 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

end of its creation. . . . Our activity should therefore consist in 
endeavouring to acquire and maintain such a state as may be 
most susceptible of divine impressions, most flexile to all the 
operations of the Eternal Word. Whilst a tablet is unsteady, 
the painter is unable to delineate a true copy : so every act of 
our own selfish and proper spirit is productive of false and 
erroneous lineaments, it interrupts the work and defeats the 
design of this Adorable Artist. We must, then, remain 
tranquil and move only when He moves us." 1 

In another metaphor, the contemplative's progress must 
involve an advance from the active and laborious watering of 
the soul's garden which he practised in Meditation, to that state 
of transcendence in which the river of life flows through it 
unchecked : wells up, as St Teresa says in another place, from 
a hidden spring, and does not enter by an aqueduct from 
without. 2 

The true mystics, in whom the Orison of Quiet develops 
to this state of receptivity, seldom use in describing it the 
language of " holy indifference." Their love and enthusiasm 
will not let them do that. It is true, of course, that they are 
indifferent to all else save the supreme claims of love : but then, 
it is of love that they speak. Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat. 
"This," says St. Teresa, "is a sleep of the powers of the soul, 
which are not wholly lost, nor yet understanding how they are at 
work. ... To me it seems to be nothing else than a death, as 
it were, to all the things of this world, and a fruition of God. I 
know of no other words whereby to describe it or explain 
it ; neither does the soul then know what to do — for it knows 
not whether to speak or be silent, whether it should laugh or 
weep. It is a glorious folly, a heavenly madness, wherein true 
wisdom is acquired ; and to the soul a kind of fruition most full 
of delight. . . . The faculties of the soul now retain only the 
power of occupying themselves wholly with God ; not one of 
them ventures to stir, neither can we move one of them without 
making great efforts to distract ourselves — and, indeed, I do not 
think we can do it at all at this time." 3 

1 " Mbyen Court," cap. xxi. Madame Guyon's vague and shifting language, how- 
ever, sometimes lays her open to other and more strictly "quietistic " interpretations. 
3 " El Castillo Interior," Moradas Cuartas, cap. iii. 
3 Vida, cap. xvi. %% I and 4. 



INTROVERSION: RECOLLECTION AND QUIET 391 

Here, then, we see the Orison of Silence melting into true 
contemplation : its stillness is ruffled by its joy. The Quiet 
reveals itself as an essentially transitional state, introducing the 
self into a new sphere of activity. 

The second degree of ardent love, says Richard of St. Victor, 
binds y so that the soul which is possessed of it is unable to 
think of anything else: it is not only "insuperable," but also 
"inseparable." " He compares it to the soul's bridal ; the 
definitive, irrevocable act, by which permanent union is initiated. 
The feeling-state which is the equivalent of the Quiet is just such 
a passive and joyous yielding-up of the virgin soul to its Bride- 
groom ; a silent marriage-vow. It is ready for all that may 
happen to it, all that may be asked of it — to give itself and 
lose itself, to wait upon the pleasure of its Love. From this 
inward surrender the self emerges to the new life, the new 
knowledge which is mediated to it under the innumerable 
forms of Contemplation. 

1 "De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis" (Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 
cxcvi. col. 1215 b). 



CHAPTER VII 
INTROVERSION. Part II : CONTEMPLATION 

Contemplation, a state of attainment — Its principal forms — Difference between 
contemplation and ecstasy — Contemplation defined — Its psychology — Delacroix — It 
is a brief act — St. Augustine — It is " inefjable " and "noetic" — Contemplation in- 
cludes a large group of states — Its two marks ; totality and self-mergence — Dionysius 
the Areopagite — It is a unitive act — Ruysbroeck — Hilton — What do mystics tell us 
of the contemplative act ? — Two things : loving communion and divine ignorance — 
Both represent temperamental reaction — The mystic usually describes his own feeling 
state — Richard Rolle — Two forms of contemplation : transcendental and immanental 
— Contemplation of Transcendence — The Via Negativa — The Divine Dark — The 
Desert of God — Tauler — Maeterlinck — Vision of Transcendence — Dante — Angela of 
Foligno — Contemplation of Immanence — An experience of Personality — Divine Love 
— These two forms really one — Both necessary — Ruysbroeck combines them — The 
process of Contemplation — Dionysius — The Cloud of Unknowing — Boehme — Divine 
Ignorance — Angelo of Foligno — Loving contemplation — St. John of the Cross — 
Rolle — The orison of union — Necessary to a description of the contemplative act — 
Deep orison — St. Teresa 

WE must now consider under the general name of 
Contemplation all those more advanced states of 
introversion in which the mystic attains somewhat : 
the results and rewards of the discipline of Recollection and 
Quiet. If this course of spiritual athletics has done its work, 
he has now brought to the surface, trained and made efficient 
for life, a form of consciousness — a medium of communication 
with reality — which remains undeveloped in ordinary men. 
Thanks to this faculty, he is now able to perform the charac- 
teristic mystic act : to obtain a temporary union with " that 
spiritual, fount closed to all reactions from the world of sense, 
where, without witnesses of any kind, God and our Freedom 
meet." * 

In the degrees of Recollection, the self trained itself in 
spiritual attention : and at the same time lifted itself to a new 

* Recejac, "Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique," p. 176. 
392 



INTROVERSION : CONTEMPLATION 393 

level of perception where, by means of the symbol which 
formed the gathering- point of its powers, it received a new 
inflow of life. In the degrees of Quiet it passed on to a state 
characterized by a tense stillness, in which it rested in that 
Reality at which, as yet, it dared not look. Now, in Contem- 
plation, it is to transcend alike the stages of symbol and of 
silence : and " energize enthusiastically " on those high levels 
which are dark to the intellect but radiant to the heart. We 
must expect this contemplative activity to show itself in many 
different ways and take many different names, since its type 
will be largely governed by individual temperament. It appears 
under the forms which ascetic writers call "ordinary" and 
" extraordinary," " infused " or " passive " Contemplation ; and 
as that " orison of union " which we have already discussed. 1 
Sometimes, too, it shows itself under those abnormal psycho- 
physical conditions in which the intense concentration of the 
self upon its overpowering transcendental perceptions results in 
the narrowing of the field of consciousness to a point at which 
all knowledge of the external world is lost, all the messages of 
the senses are utterly ignored. The subject then appears to be 
in a state of trance, characterized by physical rigidity and more 
or less complete anaesthesia. These are the conditions of Rap- 
ture or Ecstasy : conditions of which the physical resemblances 
to certain symptoms of hysteria have so greatly reassured the 
enemies of mysticism. 

Rapture and Ecstasy differ from Contemplation proper in 
being wholly involuntary states. Rapture, says St. Teresa, 
who frequently experienced it, is absolutely irresistible ; we 
cannot hinder it. Whereas the orison of union, which is one 
of the forms in which pure Contemplation appears at its highest 
point of development, is still controlled to a large extent by 
the will of the subject, and " may be hindered, although that 
resistance be painful and violent" 2 There is thus a sharp 
natural division — a division both physical and psychical — 
established between the contemplative and the ecstatic states : 
and we shall do well to avail ourselves of it in our examination 
of their character. 

First, then, as to Contemplation proper : what is it ? It is a 
supreme manifestation of that indivisible " power of knowing " 

1 Supra, p. 294. 2 St. Teresa, Vida, cap. xx. §§ I and 3. 



P 



394 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

which lies at the root of all our artistic and spiritual satisfac- 
tions. In it, man's " made Trinity " of thought, love, and will, 
becomes a Unity : and feeling and perception are fused, as they 
are in all our apprehensions of beauty, and best contacts with 
life. It is an act, not of the Reason, but of the whole personality 
working under the stimulus of mystic love. Hence, its results 
feed every aspect of that personality : minister to its instinct 
for the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. Psychologically it is 
an induced state, in which the field of consciousness is greatly 
contracted : the whole of the self, its conative powers, being 
sharply focused, concentrated upon one thing. We pour our- 
selves out or, as it sometimes seems to us, in towards this over- 
powering interest : seem to ourselves to reach it and be merged 
with it. Whatever the thing may be, in this act we know it, as 
we cannot know it by the mere ordinary devices of thought. 

The turning of our attention from that crisp and definite world 
of multiplicity, that cinematograph-show, with which intelli- 
gence is accustomed and able to deal, has loosed new powers of 
perception which we never knew that we possessed. Instead of 
, sharply perceiving the fragment, we feel the solemn presence of 
the whole. Deeper levels of personality are opened up, and go 
gladly to the encounter of the universe. That universe, or some 
Reality hid between it and ourselves, responds to "the true 
lovely will of our heart." Our ingoing concentration is balanced 
by a great outgoing sense of expansion, of new worlds made 
ours, as we receive the inflow of its life. 

Delacroix has described with great subtlety the psycho- 
logical character of pure contemplation. 

" When contemplation appears," he says : " (a) It produces 
a general condition of indifference, liberty, and peace, an 
elevation above the world, a sense of beatitude. The Subject 
ceases to perceive himself in the multiplicity and division 
of his general consciousness. He is raised above himself. A 
deeper and a purer soui substitutes itself for the normal self. 
(h) In this state, in which consciousness of I-hood and con- 
sciousness of the world disappear, the mystic is conscious of 
being in immediate relation with God Himself; of participating 
in Divinity. Contemplation installs a method of being and of 
knowing. Moreover, these two things tend at bottom to 
become one. The mystic has more and more the impression 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 395 

of being that which he knows, and of knowing that which he 
is." * Temporally rising, in fact, to levels of freedom, he knows 
himself real, and therefore knows Reality. 

Now, the object of the mystic's contemplation is always 
some aspect of the Infinite Life : of " God, the one Reality." 
Hence, the enhancement of vitality which artists or other unself- 
conscious observers may receive from their communion with 
scattered manifestations of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, is in 
his case infinitely increased. His uniformly rapturous language 
is alone enough to prove this. In the contemplative act, his 
whole personality, directed by love and will, transcends the 
sense-world, casts off its fetters, and rises to freedom : becoming 
operative on those high levels where, says Tauler, " reason 
cannot come." There it apprehends the supra-sensible by 
immediate contact, and knows itself to be in the presence of 
the " Supplier of true Life." Such Contemplation — such attain- 
ment of the Absolute — is the whole act of which the visions of 
poets, the intuition of philosophers, give us hints. 

It is a brief act. The very greatest of the contemplatives 
have been unable to sustain the brilliance of this awful vision 
for more than a very little while. " A flash," " an instant," " the 
space of an Ave Maria," they say. 

" My mind," says St. Augustine, in his account of his first 
purely contemplative glimpse of the One Reality, " withdrew its 
thoughts from experience, extracting itself from the contradic- 
tory throng of sensuous images, that it might find out what that 
light was wherein it was bathed. . . . And thus, with the flash 
of one hurried glance, it attained to the vision of That Which 
Is. And then at last I saw Thy invisible things understood by 
means of the things that are made, but I could not sustain my 
gaze : my weakness was dashed back, and I was relegated to 
my ordinary experience, bearing with me only a loving memory, 
and as it were the fragrance of those desirable meats on the 
which as yet I was not able to feed." 2 

This fragrance, as St. Augustine calls it, remains for ever 
with those who have thus been initiated, if only for a moment, 
into the atmosphere of the Real : and this — the immortal 
and indescribable memory of their communion with That 
WhiclKTs — gives to their work the perfume of the " Inviolate 

1 "Etudes sur le Mysticisme," p. 370. z Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. xvii. 



396 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Rose," and is the secret of its magic power. But they can 
i never tell us in exact and human language what it was that 
they attained in their ecstatic flights towards the thought of 
God : their momentary mergence in the Absolute Life. 

" That Which Is," says Augustine ; " The One," " the Sup- 
plier of true Life," says Plotinus ; "the energetic Word," says St. 
Bernard ; " Eternal Light," says Dante ; " the Abyss," says Ruys- 
broeck ; "Pure Love," says St. Catherine of Genoa — poor symbols 
of Perfection at the best. But, through and by these oblique 
utterances, they give us the far more valuable assurance that the 
Object of their discovery is one with the object of our quest. 

William James has well observed that " ineffability " and 
" noetic quality " are the constant characteristics of the con- 
templative experience. 1 Those who have seen are quite con- 
vinced : those who have not seen, can never be told. There is 
[no certitude to equal the mystic's certitude: no impotence more 
1 complete than that which falls on those who try to communicate 
it. " Of these most excellent and divine workings in the soul, 
whereby God doth manifest Himself," says Angela of Foligno, 
17 Man can in no wise speak or even stammer." 2 Over and over 
again, however, he has tried to speak : and the greater part of mys- 
tical literature is concerned with these attempts. Under a variety 
of images, by a deliberate exploitation of the musical and sug- 
gestive qualities of words — often, too, by the help of desperate 
paradoxes, those unfailing stimulants of man's intuitive power 
— he tries to tell others somewhat of that veritable country 
which " eye hath not seen." His success — partial though it be 
— can only be accounted for upon the supposition that some- 
where within us lurks a faculty which has known this country 
from its birth ; which dwells in it, partakes of Pure Being, and 
can under certain conditions be stung to consciousness. Then 
" transcendental feeling," waking from its sleep, acknowledges 
that these explorers of the Infinite have really gazed upon the 
secret plan. 

Now Contemplation is not, like meditation, one simple state, 
governed by one set of psychic conditions. It is a name for a 
large group of states, partly governed — like all other forms of 

1 "Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 380. 

2 B. Angelae de Fulginio, M Visionum et Instructionum Liber," cap. xxvii. 
(English translation, p. 189). 



r 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 397 

mystical activity — by the temperament ot the subject, and 
accompanied by feeling-states which vary from the extreme 
of quietude or " peace in life naughted " to the rapturous and 
active love in which " thought into song is turned." Some 
kinds of Contemplation are inextricably entwined with the 
phenomena of " intellectual vision " and " inward voices." In 
others we find what seems to be a development of the " Quiet " : 
a state which the subject describes as a blank absorption, a 
darkness, or " contemplation in caligine" x Sometimes the con- 
templative tells us that he passes through this darkness to the 
light : 2 sometimes it seems to him that he stays for ever in the 
"beneficent dark." 3 In some cases the soul says that even in 
the depths of her absorption, she " knows her own bliss": in 
others she only becomes aware of it when contemplation is over 
and the surface-intelligence reassumes the reins. 

In this welter of personal experiences, it becomes necessary 
to adopt some basis of classification, some rule by which to 
distinguish true Contemplation from other introversive states. 
Such a basis is not easy to find. I think, however, that there 
are two marks of the real condition : (A) Totality, and (B) 
Self-Mergence: and these we may safely use in our attempt 
to determine its character. 

(A) Whatever terms he may employ to describe it, and 
however faint or confused his perceptions may be, the mystic's 
experience in Contemplation is the experience of the All. It is 
the Absolute which he has attained : not, as in meditation or 
vision, some partial symbol or aspect thereof. 

(B) This attainment is brought about, this knowledge gained, 
by way of participation, not by way of observation. The 
passive receptivity of the Quiet is here developed into an active, 
outgoing self-donation. A " give and take " — a divine osmosis 
— is set up between the finite and the infinite life. Not only 
does the Absolute pour in on the self, but that self rushes out 
willingly to lose itself in it. That dreadful consciousness of a 
narrow and limiting I -hood which dogs our search for freedom 
and full life, is done away. For a moment, at least, the indepen- 
dent spiritual life is achieved. The contemplative is merged 

1 Compare Baker, " Holy Wisdom," Treatise iii. § iv. cap. iv. 
a See Hilton, "The Scale of Perfection," bk. ii. cap. vi. 
3 Vide infra, p. 414. 



398 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

in it " like a bird in the air, like a fish in the sea " : loses to find 
and dies to live. 

" We must," says Dionysius the Areopagite, " contemplate 
/ things divine by our whole selves standing out of our whole 
selves ; becoming wholly of God." x This is the " passive 
union " of Contemplation : a temporary condition in which the 
subject receives a double conviction of ineffable happiness and 
ultimate reality. He may try to translate this conviction into 
" something said " or " something seen " : but in the end he will 
be found to confess that he can tell nothing, save by implication. 
The essential fact is that he was there : as the essential fact for 
the returning exile is neither landscape nor language, but the 
homely spirit of place. 

" To see and to have seen that Vision," says Plotinus in one 
of his finest passages, " is reason no longer. It is more than 
reason, before reason, and after reason, as also is the vision 
which is seen. And perhaps we should not here speak of sight : 
for that which is seen — if we must needs speak of seer and seen 
as two and not one — is not discerned by the seer, nor perceived 
by him as a second thing. . . . Therefore this vision is hard to 
tell of : for how can a man describe as other than himself that 
which, when he discerned it, seemed not other, but one with 
himself indeed?" 2 

Ruysbroeck, who continued in the mediaeval world the best 
traditions of Neoplatonic Mysticism, also describes a condition 
of supreme insight, a vision of Truth, obviously the same as 
that at which Plotinus hints. " Contemplation," he says, "places 
us in a purity and a radiance which is far above our under- 
standing . . . and none can attain to it by knowledge, by 
subtlety, or by any exercise : but he whom God chooses to unite 
to Himself, and to illuminate by Himself, he and no other can 
contemplate God. . . . But few men attain to this divine con- 
templation, because of our incapacity and of the hiddenness of 
that light wherein alone we can contemplate. And this is why 
none by his own knowledge, or by subtle examination, will ever 
really understand these things. For all words and all that one 
can learn or understand according to the mode of the creatures, 
are foreign to the truth that I have seen and far below it. But 

1 " De Divinis Nominibus," vii. I. 

2 Ennead vi. 9, 10. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 399 

he who is united to God, and illumined by this truth — he can 
understand Truth by Truth. 1 

This final, satisfying knowledge of reality — this under- 
standing of Truth by Truth — is, at bottom, that which all men 
desire. The saint's thirst for God, the philosopher's passion for 
the Absolute, is nothing else than this crying need of the spirit, 
variously expressed by the intellect and by the heart. The 
guesses of science, the diagrams of metaphysics, the intuitions 
of artists ; all are pressing towards this. Yet it is to be found 
of all in the kingdom of the contemplatives : that " little city 
set on an hill " which looks so small to those outside its gates. 

Man's soul, says Hilton, " perceiveth full well that there is 
somewhat above itself that it knoweth not, nor hath not yet, 
but would have it, and burningly yearneth after it ; and that is 
nought else than the sight of Jerusalem outwardly, which is like 
to a city which the Prophet Ezechiel saw in his visions. He 
saith that he saw a city upon a hill towards the south, that to 
his sight when it was measured was no more in length and 
breadth than a reed, that is six cubits and a palm of length. 
But as soon as he was brought into the city, and looked about 
him, then he saw that it was wondrous great, for he saw many 
halls, and chambers both open and secret ; he saw gates and 
porches without and within, and many more buildings than I 
now speak of, and it was in length and breadth many hundred 
cubits, that it seemed a wonder to him that this city was so long 
and so large within, that seemed so little to his sight when he 
was without. This city betokeneth the perfect love of God set 
upon the hill of Contemplation^ which to the sight of a soul 
that without the feeling of it travelleth in desire towards it 
seemeth somewhat, but it seemeth but a little thing, no more 
than a rood, that is six cubits and a palm in length. By six 
cubits are understood the perfection of man's work ; and by the 
palm, a little touch of Contemplation. He seeth well that there 
is such a thing that passeth the deservings of all the workings 
of man, like as a palm is surpassed by six cubits, but he seeth 
not within what it is ; yet if he can come within the city of 
Conte7nplation, then seeth he much more than at first." 2 

As in the case of vision, so here all that we who " with- 

1 Ruysbroeck, " L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles," 1. iii. cap. i. 

2 " The Scale of Perfection," bk. ii. cap. vi. 



400 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

out the feeling travel in desire" can really know concerning 
Contemplation — its value for life, the knowledge it confers — 
must come from those who have " come within the city " : have, 
in the metaphor of Plotinus, " taken flight towards the Thought 
of God." What, in effect, can they tell us about the knowledge 
of reality which they attained in that brief communion with 
the Absolute ? 

They tell us chiefly, when we come to collate their evidence, 
two apparently contradictory things. They speak, almost in 
the same breath, of an exceeding joy, a Beatific Vision, an 
intense communion, and a "loving sight " : and of an exceeding 
emptiness, a barren desert, an unfathomable Abyss, a nescience, 
a Divine Dark. 

Over and over again these two pairs of opposites occur in all 
first-hand descriptions of pure contemplation : Remoteness and 
Intimacy, Darkness and Light. Bearing in mind that these four 
groups of symbols all describe the same process seen " through 
a temperament," and represent the reaction of that temperament 
upon Absolute Reality, we may perhaps by their comparison 
obtain some faint idea of the indescribable Somewhat at which 
they hint. 

Note first that the emotional accompaniments of his per- 
ceptions will always and necessarily be the stuff from which 
the mystic draws suggestive language by which to hint at his 
experience of supernal things. His descriptions will always 
lean to the impressionistic rather than to the scientific side. 
The " deep yet dazzling darkness," the " unfathomable abyss," 
the Cloud of Unknowing, the " embrace of the Beloved," all 
represent, not the Transcendent but his relation with the Tran- 
scendent : not an object observed but an overwhelming impres- 
sion felt, by the totality of his being during his communion with 
a Reality which is One. 

It is not fair, however, to regard Contemplation on this 
account as pre-eminently a " feeling state," and hence attribute 
to it, as many modern writers do, a merely subjective validity. 
It is, of course, accompanied, as all humanity's supreme and 
vital acts are accompanied, by feelings of an exalted kind : and 
since such emotions are the least abnormal part of it, they are 
the part which the subject finds easiest to describe. These 
elusive combinations of Fear, Amazement, Desire, and Joy are 



V 01 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 401 

more or less familiar to him. The accidents of sensual life have 
developed them. His language contains words which are 
capable of suggesting them to other men. But his total 
experience transcends mere feeling, just as it transcends mere 
intellect. It is a complete act of perception, inexpressible by 
these departmental words : and its agent is the whole man, the 
indivisible personality whose powers and nature are only 
partially hinted at in such words as Love, Thought, or Will. 

The plane of consciousness, however— the objective some- 
what — of which this personality becomes aware in contempla- 
tion, is not familiar to it ; neither is it related to its systems of 
thought. Man, accustomed to dwell amongst spatial images 
adapted to the needs of daily life, has no language that will fit 
it at all. So, a person hearing for the first time some master- 
piece of classical music, would have no language in which to 
describe it objectively ; but could only tell us how it made him 
feel. This is one reason why feeling-states seem to preponderate 
in all descriptions of the mystic act. Earthly emotions provide 
a parallel which enables the subject to tell us by implication 
something of that which he felt : but he cannot tell us — for 
want of standards of comparison — what it was that induced him 
thus to feel. His best efforts to fit words to this elusive some- 
what generally result in the evaporation alike of its fragrance 
and of its truth. As St. Augustine said of Time, he knows what 
it is until he is asked to define it. 

How symbolic and temperamental is all verbal description 
of mystical activity, may be seen by the aspect which contempla- 
tion takes in the music-loving soul of Richard Rolle ; who 
always found his closest parallels with Reality, not in the 
concepts of intimate union, or of self-loss in the Divine Abyss, 
but in the idea of the soul's participation in a supernal harmony 
— that sweet minstrelsy of God in which " thought into song is 
turned." 

" To me," he says, " it seems that contemplation is joyful 
song of God's love taken in mind, with sweetness of angels' 
loving. This is jubilation, that is the end of perfect prayer and 
high devotion in this life. This is that mirth in mind, had 
ghostily by the lover everlastingly, with great voice out- 
breaking. .... Contemplative sweetness not without full great 
labour is gotten, and with joy untold it is possessed. Forsooth, 

DD 



402 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

it is not man's merit but God's gift ; and yet from the beginning 
to this day never might man be ravished in contemplation of 
Love Everlasting, but if he before parfitely all the world's vanity 
had forsaken." l 

We must, then, be prepared to accept, sift, and use many 
different descriptions of evoked emotion in the course of our 
enquiry into the nature of the contemplative's perceptions of the 
Absolute. We find on analysis that these evoked emotions 
separate themselves easily into two groups. Further, these two 
groups answer to the two directions in which the mystic 
consciousness of Reality is extended, and to the pairs of 
descriptions of the Godhead which we have found throughout 
to be characteristic of mystical literature : i.e., the personal and 
spatial, immanental and transcendental, indwelling Life and 
Unconditioned Source : (a) the strange, dark, unfathomable 
Abyss of Pure Being always dwelt upon by mystics of the 
metaphysical type, and {b) the divine and loved Companion 
of the soul whose presence is so sharply felt by those selves 
which lean to the concept of Divine Personality. 

A. The Contemplation of Transcendence. — The first group 
of feeling-states, allied to those which emphasize the 
theological idea of Divine Transcendence, is born of the 
mystic's sense of his own littleness, unworthiness, and in- 
curable ignorance in comparison with the ineffable greatness 
of the Absolute Godhead which he has perceived, and in 
which he desires to lose himself: of the total and incom- 
municable difference in kind between the Divine and everything 
else. Awe and self-abasement and the paradoxical passion for 
self-loss in the All, here govern his emotional state. All 
affirmative statements seem to him blasphemous, so far are they 
from an ineffable truth which is "more than reason, before 
reason, and after reason." To this group of feelings, which 
.usually go with an instinctive taste for Neoplatonism, an icono- 
clastic distrust of personal imagery, we owe all negative 
descriptions of supreme Reality. For this type of self God 
is the Unconditioned, for whom we have no words, and whom 
all our poor symbols insult. To see Him is to enter the Dark- 
ness, the " Cloud of Unknowing," and " know only that we know 
nought." Nothing else can satisfy this exaggerated spiritual 
x Richard Rolle, " The Mending of Life," cap. xii. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 403 

humility, which easily degenerates into that subtle form of 
pride which refuses to acquiesce in its own limitations. 

"There is none other God but He that none may know, 
which may not be known," says this contemplative soul. " No, 
soothly, no ! Without fail, No, says she. He only is my God 
that none can one word of say, nor all they of Paradise one 
only point attain nor understand, for all the knowing that they 
have of Him." 1 

When they tried very hard to be geographically exact, to 
define and describe their apprehension of and contact with the 
Unconditioned One, who is the only Country of the Soul, 
contemplatives of this type became, like their great master the 
Areopagite, impersonal and remote. They seem to have been 
caught up to some measureless height, where the air is too 
rarefied for the lungs of common men. When we ask them the 
nature of the life on these summits, they are compelled as a rule 
to adopt the Dionysian concept of Divine Darkness, or the 
parallel idea of the fathomless Abyss, the Desert of the Godhead, 
the Eckhartian "still wilderness where no one is at home." 

Oddly enough, it is in their language concerning this place 
or plane of reality, in which union with the Super-essential God- 
head takes place — this " lightsome darkness and rich nought " — 
that they come nearer to distinct affirmation, and consequently 
offer more surprises to sentimental and popular piety, than in 
any other department of their work. Unquestionably this 
language, these amazing tidings of a " still desert," a " vast sea," 
an"unplumbed abyss" in which the " emptiness," the "nothing," 
the " Dark " on which the self entered in the Orison of Quiet is 
infinitely increased, yet positive satisfaction is at last attained, 
does correspond with a definite psychological experience. It is 
not merely the convention of a school. These descriptions, 
incoherent as they are, have a strange note of certainty, a stranger 
note of passion, an odd realism of their own : which mean, 
wherever we meet them, that experience not tradition is their 
source. 

Driven of necessity to a negation of all that their surface- 
minds have ever known — with language, strained to the 
uttermost, failing them at every turn— these contemplatives are 
still able to communicate to us a definite somewhat, news as to 

1 " The Mirror of Simple Souls," cap. iii. 



404 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

a given and actual Reality, an unchanging Absolute ; and a 
beatific union with it, most veritably attained. They agree in 
their accounts of it, in a way which makes it obvious that all 
these reporters have sojourned in the same land, and experienced 
the same spiritual state. Moreover, our own inmost minds bear 
witness for them. We meet them half-way. We know in- 
stinctively and irrefutably that they tell true ; and they rouse in 
us a passionate nostalgia, a bitter sense of exile and of loss. 

One and all, these explorers of the Infinite fly to language 
expressive of great and boundless spaces. In their withdrawal 
from the busy, fretful sense-world they have sunk down to the 
"ground" of the soul and of the universe: Being, the Substance 
of all that Is. Multiplicity is resolved into Unity : a unity with 
which the perceiving self is merged. Thus the mystic, for the 
time of this " union with the Divine," does find himself, in 
Tauler's words, to be " simply in God." 

" The great wastes to be found in this divine ground," says 
that great master, " have neither image nor form nor condition, 
for they are neither here nor there. They are like unto a 
fathomless Abyss, bottomless and floating in itself. Even as 
water ebbs and flows, up and down, now sinking into a hollow, 
so that it looks as if there were no water there, and then again 
in a little while rushing forth as if it would engulf everything f 
so does it come to pass in this Abyss. This, truly, is much 
more God's Dwelling-place than heaven or man. A man who 
verily desires to enter will surely find God here, and himself 
simply in God ; for God never separates Himself from this 
ground. God will be present with him, and he will find and 
enjoy Eternity here. There is no past nor present here, and 
no created light can reach unto or shine into this divine 
Ground ; for here only is the dwelling-place of God and His 
sanctuary. 

" Now this Divine Abyss can be fathomed by no creatures ; it 
can be filled by none, and it satisfies none ; God only can fill it 
in His Infinity. For this abyss belongs only to the Divine 
Abyss, of which it is written : Abyssus abyssum invocat. He 
who is truly conscious of this ground, which shone into the 
powers of his soul, and lighted and inclined its lowest and 
highest powers to turn to their pure Source and true Origin, 
must diligently examine himself, and remain alone, listening to 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 405 

the voice which cries in the wilderness of this ground. This 
ground is so desert and bare, that no thought has ever entered 
there. None of all the thoughts of man which, with the help of 
reason, have been devoted to meditation on the Holy Trinity 
(and some men have occupied themselves much with these 
{ thoughts) have ever entered this ground. For it is so close and 
'yet so far off, and so far beyond all things, that it has neither 
time nor place. It is a simple and unchanging condition. 
A man who really and truly enters, feels as though he had 
been here throughout eternity, and as though he were one 
therewith." » 

Many other mystics have written to the same effect : have 
described with splendour the ineffable joys and terrors of the 
Abyss of Being " where man existed in God from all Eternity," 
the soul's adventures when, " stripped of its very life," it " sails 
the wild billows of the sea divine." But their words merely 
amaze the outsider and give him little information. The con- ! 
templative self who has attained this strange country can only 
tell an astonished and incredulous world that here his greatest \ 
deprivation is also his greatest joy ; that here the extremes of 
possession and surrender are the same, that ignorance and 
knowledge, light and dark, are One. Love has led him into that 
timeless, spaceless world of Being which is the peaceful ground, 
not only of the individual striving spirit, but also of the striving 
universe ; and he can but cry with Philip, "It is enough" 

" Here," says Maeterlinck, " we stand suddenly at the con- 
fines of human thought, and far beyond the Polar circle of the 
mind. It is intensely cold here ; it is intensely dark ; and yet 
you will find nothing but flames and light. But to those who 
come without having trained their souls to these new per- 
ceptions, this light and these flames are as dark and as cold as 
if they were painted. Here we are concerned with the most 
exact of sciences : with the exploration of the harshest and 
most uninhabitable headlands of the divine 'Know thyself: 
and the midnight sun reigns over that rolling sea where the 
psychology of man mingles with the psychology of God." 2 

On one hand " flames and light " — the flame of living love 

1 Tauler, Sermon on St. John the Baptist (" The Inner Way," pp. 97-99). 

2 Maeterlinck, Introduction to Ruysbroeck's " L'Ornement des Noces 
Spirituelles," p. v. 



406 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

which fills the universe — on the other the " quiet desert of 
Godhead," the Divine Dark. Under these two types, one 
affirmative, one negative, resumed in his most daring paradox, 
nearly the whole of man's contemplative experience of the 
Absolute can be and is expressed. We have considered his 
negative description of Utmost Transcendence : that confession 
of " divine ignorance " which is a higher form of knowledge. 
But this is balanced, in a few elect spirits, by a positive contem- 
plation of truth, an ecstatic apprehension of the " secret plan." 
Certain rare mystics seem able to describe to us a Beatific 
Vision experienced here and now : a knowledge by contact of 
the Flaming Heart of Reality which includes in one great 
whole the planes of Being and Becoming, the •* fixed point of 
Deity," the Eternal Father, and His manifestation in the 
" energetic Word." We saw something of this power, which is 
characteristic of mystical genius of a high order, when we 
studied the characteristics of Illumination. Its finest literary 
expression is found in that passage of the "Paradiso" where 
Dante tells us how he pierced, for an instant, the secret of the 
Empyrean. Already he had enjoyed a symbolic vision of 
two-fold Reality, as the moving River of Light and the still 
white Rose. 1 Now these two aspects vanished, and he saw 
the One. 

". . .la mia vista, venendo sincera, 

e piu e piu entrava per lo raggio 

dell' alta luce, che da se e vera. 
Da quinci innanzi il mio veder fu maggio 

che il parlar nostro ch' a tal vista cede, 

e cede la memoria a tanto oltraggio. 
Qual e colui che somniando vede, 

che dopo il sogno la passione impressa 

rimane, e 1' altro alia mente non riede ; 
Cotal son io, che quasi tutta cessa 

mia visione, ed ancor mi distilla 

nel cor lo dolce che nacque da essa. 
* * * * 

Io credo, per 1* acume ch' io soffersi 

del vivo raggio, ch' io sarei smarrito, 

se gli occhi miei da lui fossero aversi. 
E mi ricorda ch' io fui piu ardito 

per questo a sostener tanto ch' io giunsi 

1' aspetto mio col Valor infinite 



Par. xxx. 61-128. Compare p. 343. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 407 

Cosl la mente mia, tutta sospesa, 

mirava fissa, immobile ed attenta, 

e sempre del mirar faceasi accesa. 
A quella luce cotal si diventa, 

che volgersi da lei per altro aspetto 

e impossibil che mai si consenta. 
Pero che il Ben, ch' e del volere obbietto, 

tutto s'accoglie in lei, e fuor di quella 

e difettevo cio che li' e perfetto. " x 

Intermediate between the Dantesque apprehension of Eter- 
nal Reality and the contemplative communion with Divine 
Personality, is the type of mystic whose perceptions of the 
supra-sensible are neither wholly personal nor wholly cosmic 
and transcendental in type. To him, God is pre-eminently the 
Perfect — Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, Light, Life, and Love — 
discovered in a moment of lucidity at the very door of the 
seeking self. Here the symbols under which He is perceived 
are still the abstractions of philosophy : but in the hands of the 
mystic these terms cease to be abstract, are stung to life. 
Such contemplatives preserve the imageless and ineffable char- 
acter of the Absolute, but are moved by its contemplation to a 
joyous and personal love. 

Thus " upon a certain time," says Angela of Foligno, " when 
I was at prayer and my spirit was exalted, God spake unto me 
many gracious words full of love. And when I looked I beheld 
God who spake with me. But if thou seekest to know that 
which I beheld, I can tell thee nothing, save that I beheld a 
fullness and a clearness, and felt them within me so abundantly 
that I can in no wise describe it, nor give any likeness thereof. 

1 Par. xxxiii. 52-63, 76-81, 97-105. " My vision, becoming purified, entered 
deeper and deeper into the ray ot that Supernal Light which in itself is true. 
Thenceforth my vision was greater than our language, which fails such a sight ; and 
memory too fails before such excess. As he who sees in a dream, and after the 
dream is gone the impression or emotion remains, but the rest returns not to the 
mind, such am I : for nearly the whole of my vision fades, and yet there still wells 
within my heart the sweetness born therefrom. ... I think that by the keenness 01 
the living ray which I endured I had been lost, had I once turned my eyes aside. 
And I remember that for this I was the bolder so long to sustain myjgaze, as to unite 
it with the Power Infinite. . . . Thus did my mind, wholly in suspense, gaze fixedly, 
immovable and intent, ever enkindled by its gazing. In the presence of that Light 
one becomes such, that never could one consent to turn from it to any other sight. 
Because the Good, which is the object of the will, is therein wholly gathered ; and 
outside of this, that is defective which therein is perfect." 



408 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

For what I beheld was not corporal but as though it were in 
heaven. Thus I beheld a beauty so great that I can say nought 
concerning it, save that I saw the supreme Beauty which con- 
taineth within itself all of Good." Again, " I beheld the in- 
effable fullness of God : but I can relate nothing of it, save that 
I have seen the plenitude of Divine Wisdom wherein is all 
Goodness." x 

B. The Contemplation of Immanence. — The second group of 
contemplatives is governed by that "Love which casteth out 
fear " : by a predominating sense of the nearness, intimacy, 
and sweetness, rather than the strangeness and unattainable 
transcendence of that same Infinite Life at whose being 
the first group could only hint by amazing images which 
seem to be borrowed from the poetry of metaphysics. 
They are, says Hilton, in a lovely image, " Feelingly fed with 
the savour of His invisible blessed Face." 2 All the feelings 
which flow from joy, confidence, and affection, rather than those 
which are grouped about rapture and awe — though awe is 
always present in some measure, as it is always present in all 
perfect love — here contribute towards a description of the Truth. 

These contemplatives tell us of their attainment of That 
which Is, as the closest and most joyous of all communions ; a 
coming of the Bridegroom ; a rapturous immersion in the 
Uncreated Light. " Nothing more profitable, nothing merrier 
than grace of contemplation ! " cries Rolle, " that lifts us from 
this low and offers to God. What is grace of contemplation but 
beginning of joy? what is parfiteness of joy but grace con- 
firmed ? " 3 

In such "bright contemplation " as this, says the " Mirror of 
Simple Souls," " the soul is full gladsome and jolly." Utter peace 
and wild delight : every pleasure-state known to man's normal 
consciousness, is inadequate to the description of her joy. 
She has participated for an instant in the Divine Life : knows 
all, and knows nought. She has learnt the world's secret, not 
by knowing, but by being : the only way of really knowing 
anything. 

1 B. Angelae de Fulginio, "Visionum et Instructionum Liber," caps. xxi. and 
xxiii. (English translation, pp. 169, 174)* 

a "The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. xL 
3 "The Mending of Life," cap. xii. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 409 

Where the dominant emotion is that of intimate affection : 
and where the training or disposition of the mystic inclines him 
to emphasize the personal and Incarnational rather than the 
abstract and Trinitarian side of Christianity, the contemplative 
of this type will always tend to describe his secret to us as 
above all things an experience of adorable Friendship. Reality 
is for him a Person, not a State. In the " orison of union " it 
seems to him that an absolute communion, a merging of his self 
with this other and strictly personal Self takes place. " God," 
he says, then " meets the soul in her Ground " : i.e., in that 
world of Pure Being to which, by divine right, she belongs. 
Clearly, the " degree of contemplation," the psychological state, 
is here the same as that in which the mystic of the impersonal 
type attained the "Abyss." But from the point of view of 
the subject this joyful and personal encounter of Lover and 
Beloved will be a very different experience from the soul's 
immersion in that " desert of Deity," as described by Eckhart 
and his school. " In this oning," says Hilton, " consisteth the 
marriage which passeth betwixt God and the soul, that shall 
never be dissolved or broken." x 

St. Teresa is the classic example of this intimate and 
affective type of contemplation : but St. Gertrude, Suso, 
Julian, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and countless others, provide 
instances of its operation. We owe to it all the most beauti- 
ful and touching expressions of mystic love. 

Julian's " I saw Him and sought Him : and I had Him, 
I wanted Him " expresses in epigram its combination of rap- 
turous attainment and insatiable desire : its apprehension of 
a Presence at once friendly and divine. So too does her 
description of the Tenth Revelation of Love when " with this 
sweet enjoying He showed unto mine understanding in part 
the blessed Godhead, stirring then the poor soul to understand, 
as it may be said, that is, to think on the endless Love that 
was without beginning, and is, and shall be ever. And with 
this our good Lord said full blissfully, Lo, how that I loved 
thee, as if He had said, My darling, behold and see thy Lord, 
thy God that is thy Maker, and thine endless joy" 2 

" The eyes of my soul were opened," says Angela of 

1 "The Scale of Perfection," bk. i. pt. i. cap. viii. 
8 "Revelations of Divine Love," cap. xxiv. 



410 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

Foligno, " and I beheld love advancing gently towards me, and 
I beheld the beginning but not the end. Unto me there 
seemed only a continuation and eternity thereof, so that I 
can describe neither likeness nor colour, but immediately 
that this love reached me, I did behold all these things more 
clearly with the eyes of the soul then I could do with the 
eyes of the body. This love came towards me , after the 
manner of a sickle. Not that there was any actual and 
measurable likeness, but when first it appeared unto me it 
did not give itself unto me in such abundance as I expected, 
but part of it was withdrawn. Therefore do I say after the 
manner of a sickle. Then was I filled with love and 
inestimable satiety." x 

It is to Mechthild of Magdeburg, whose contemplation 
was emphatically of the intimate type, that we owe the most 
perfect definition of this communion of the mystic with his 
Friend. " Orison," she says, " draws the great God down 
into the small heart: it drives the hungry soul out to the 
full God. It brings together the two lovers, God and the 
soul, into a joyful room where they speak much of love." 2 

We have already seen that the doctrine of the Trinity 
makes it possible for Christian mystics, and, still more, for 
Christian mysticism as a whole, to reconcile this way of 
apprehending reality with the " negative " and impersonal 
perception of the ineffable One, the Absolute which " hath 
no image." Though they seem in their extreme forms to be 
so sharply opposed as to justify Eckhart's celebrated dis- 
tinction between the unknowable totality of the Godhead 
and the knowable personality of God, the "image" and the 
" circle " are yet aspects of one thing. Instinctive monists as 
they are, all the mystics feel — and the German school in 
particular have expressed — Dante's conviction that these two 
aspects of reality, these two planes of being, however widely 
they seem to differ, are One.z Both are ways of describing 
that Absolute Truth, " present yet absent, near, yet far," that 
Triune Fact, di tre colori e cT una continenza, which is God. 
Both are necessary if we are to form any idea of that com- 

: B. Angelae de Fulginio, op. cit., cap. xxv. (English translation, p. 178). 
* "Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit," pt. v. cap. 13. 
3 Par. xxxiii. 137. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 411 

plete Reality : as, when two men go together to some 
undiscovered country, one will bring home news of its great 
spaces, its beauty of landscape, another of its geological 
formation, or the flora and fauna that express its life ; and 
both must be taken into account before any just estimate 
of the real country can be made. 

Since it is of the essence of the Christian religion to 
combine personal and metaphysical truth, a transcendent 
and an immanent God, 1 it is not surprising that we should 
find in Christianity a philosophic and theological basis for 
this paradox of the contemplative experience. Most often, 
though not always, the Christian mystic identifies the personal 
and intimate Lover of the soul, of whose elusive presence 
he is so sharply aware, with the person of Christ ; the un- 
knowable and transcendent Godhead with that eterna luce, 
" the Undifferentiated One in Whom the Trinity of Persons 
is resumed. 

Temperamentally, most practical contemplatives lean to 
either one or other of these apprehensions of Reality : to a 
personal and immanental meeting in the "ground of the 
soul," or to the austere joys of the " naughted soul " abased 
before an impersonal Transcendence which no language but 
that of negation can define. In some, however, both types 
of perception seem to exist together : and they speak alter- 
natively of light and darkness, of the rapturous encounter 
with Love and of supreme self-loss in the naked Abyss ; 
the desert of the essence of God. Ruysbroeck is the perfect 
example of this type of contemplative ; and his works con- 
tain numerous and valuable passages descriptive of that 
synthetic experience which resumes the personal and tran- 
scendental aspects of the mystic fact. 

" When we have become Voyant" he says — that is to say, 
when we have attained to spiritual lucidity — "we are able to 
contemplate in joy the eternal coming of the Bridegroom ; and 
this is the second point on which I would speak. What, then, 
is this eternal coming of our Bridegroom ? It is a perpetual 
new birth and a perpetual new illumination : for the ground 
whence the Light shines and which is Itself the Light, is living 
and fruitful : and hence the manifestation of the Eternal Light 

1 Compare supra, Pt. I. Cap V. 



412 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

is renewed without interruption in the most secret part of our 
souls. Behold ! all human works and active virtues are here 
transcended ; for God discloses Himself only at the apex of the 
soul. Here there is nought else but an eternal contemplation 
of, and dwelling upon the Light, by the Light and in the Light. 
And the coming of the Bridegroom is so swift, that He comes 
perpetually, and He dwells within us with His abysmal riches, 
and He returns to us as it were anew in His Person, with such 
new radiance, that He seems never to have come to us before. 
For His coming consists, outside all Time, in an Eternal Now> 
always welcomed with new desires and with new Joys. Behold! 
the delights and the joys which this Bridegroom brings in His 
coming are fathomless and limitless, for they are Himself: and 
this is why the eyes of the soul, by which the lover contemplates 
the Bridegroom, are opened so widely that they can never close 
again. . . . Now this active meeting, and this loving embrace, 
are in their essence fruitive and unconditioned; for the infinite 
Undifferentiation of the Godhead is so dark and so naked of all 
image, that it conceals within itself all the divine qualities and 
works, all the properties of the Persons, in the all-enfolding 
richness of the Essential Unity, and forms a divine fruition in 
the Abyss of the Ineffable One. And here there is an over- 
passing fruition of, and an outflowing immersion in, the nudity 
of Pure Being ; where all the Names of God, and all manifesta- 
tions, and all divine knowledge, which are reflected in the mirror 
of divine truth, are absorbed into the Ineffable Simplicity, the 
Absence of image and of knowledge. For in this limitless 
Abyss of Simplicity, all things are embraced in the bliss of 
fruition ; but the Abyss itself remains uncomprehended, except 
by the Essential Unity. The Persons and all that which lives 
in God, must give place to this. For there is nought else here 
but an eternal rest, enwrapped as it were in the fruition of the 
immersion of love : and this is the Being, without image, that all 
interior souls have chosen above all other thing. This is the 
dim silence where all lovers lose themselves." ■ 

Here Ruysbroeck, beginning with a symbol of the Divine 
Personality as Bridegroom of the Soul, which would have been 
congenial to the mind of St. Catherine of Siena, ends upon the 
summits of Christian metaphysics ; with a description of the 

1 Ruysbroeck, " L'Ornement des noces Spirituelles," bk. iii. caps. iii. and vi. 



/ 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 413 

loving immersion of the self in that Unconditioned One who 
transcends the Persons of theology and beggars human speech. 
We seem to see him desperately clutching at words and similes 
which may, he hopes, give some hint of the soul's fruition of 
Reality : its immeasurable difference in kind from the dreams 
and diagrams of anthropomorphic religion. His strange state- 
ments in respect of this Divine Abyss are on a par with those 
which I have already quoted from the works of those other 
contemplatives, who, refusing to be led away by the emotional 
aspect of their experience, have striven to tell us — as they 
thought — not merely what they felt but what they beheld. 
Ruysbroeck's great mystical genius, however, the depth and 
wholeness of his intuition of Reality, does not allow him to be 
satisfied with a merely spatial or metaphysical description of 
the Godhead. The " active meeting " and the " loving embrace" 
are, he sees, an integral part of the true contemplative act. In 
" the dim silence where lovers lose themselves," a Person meets 
a person : and this it is, not the philosophic Absolute, which 
" all interior souls have chosen above all other thing." 

We must now look more closely at the method by which 
the contemplative attains to his unique communion with the 
Absolute Life : the kind of activity which seems to him to 
characterize his mergence with Reality. As we might expect, 
that activity, like its result, is of two kinds : personal and 
affirmative, impersonal and negative. It is obvious that where 
Divine Perfection is conceived as the soul's companion, the ■> 
Bridegroom, the Beloved, the method of approach will be very 
different from that which ends in the self's immersion in the 
paradoxical splendour of the Abyss, the " still wilderness where 
no one is at home." It is all the difference between the prepa- 
rations for a wedding and for an expedition to the Arctic Seas. 
Hence we find, at one end of the scale, that extreme form of 
personal and intimate communion — the going forth of lover to 
beloved — which the mystics call " the orison of union " : and at 
the other end, the " dark contemplation," by which alone selves 
of the transcendent and impersonal type claim that they draw 
near to the Unconditioned One. 

Of the dim and ineffable contemplation of Unnameable 
Transcendence, the imageless absorption in the Absolute, 
Dionysius the Areopagite of course provides the classic 



414 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

example. It was he who gave to it the name of Divine 
Darkness : and all later mystics of this type borrow their 
language from him. His directions upon the subject are 
singularly explicit : his descriptions, like those of St. Augustine, 
glow with an exultant sense of a Reality attained, and which 
others may attain if they will but follow where he leads. 

" As for thee, oh well beloved Timothy," he says, " exercise 
thyself ceaselessly in mystical contemplation. Leave on one 
side the senses and the operations of the understanding, all 
that which is material and intellectual, all things which are, and 
all things which are not ; and, with a supernatural flight, go and 
unite thyself as closely as possible with That which is above 
all essence and all idea. For it is only by means of this 
sincere, spontaneous, and entire surrender of thyself and all 
things, that thou shalt be able to precipitate thyself, free and 
unfettered, into the mysterious radiance of the Divine Dark." x 
Again, " The Divine Dark is nought else but that inaccessible 
light wherein the Lord is said to dwell. Although it is invisible 
because of its dazzling splendours and unsearchable because of 
the abundance of its supernatural brightness, nevertheless, who- 
soever deserves to see and know God rests therein ; and, by the 
very fact that he neither sees nor knows, is truly in that which 
surpasses all truth and all knowledge." 2 

It has become a commonplace with writers on mysticism to 
say, that all subsequent contemplatives took from Dionysius 
this idea of " Divine Darkness," and entrance therein as the 
soul's highest privilege : took it, so to speak, ready-made and 
on faith, and incorporated it in their tradition. But to argue thus 
is to forget that mystics are above all things practical people. 
They do not write for the purpose of handing on a philosophical 
scheme, but in order to describe something which they have 
themselves experienced ; something which they feel to be of 

1 Dionysius the Areopagite, "De Mystica Theologia," i. I. 
- Ibid., Letter to Dorothy the Deacon. This passage seems to be the source 
of Vaughan's celebrated verse in " The Night " — 

" There is in God, some say, 
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here 
Say it is late and dusky because they 

See not all clear. 
O for that Night ! where I in Him 
Might live invisible and dim." 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 415 

transcendent importance for humanity. If, therefore, they 
persist — and they do persist — in using this simile of "darkness" 
in describing their adventures in contemplation, it can only be 
because it fits the facts. No Hegelian needs to be told that we 
shall need the addition of its opposite before we can hope to 
approach the truth : and it is exactly the opposite of this " dim 
ignorance" which is offered us by mystics of the "joyous" or 
"intimate" type, who find their supreme satisfaction in the 
positive experience of " union," the " mystical marriage of the 
soul." 

What, then, do those who use this image of the " dark " 
really mean by it? They mean this: that God in His abso- 
lute Reality is unknowable — is dark — to man's intellect : which 
is, as Bergson has reminded us, adapted to very different pur- 
poses than those of divine intuition. When, under the spur of 
mystic love, the whole personality of man comes into contact 
with that Reality, it enters a plane of experience to which none 
of the categories of the intellect apply. Reason finds itself, in 
a very actual sense, " in the dark " — immersed in the Cloud of 
Unknowing. This dimness and lostness of the mind, then, is a 
necessary part of the mystic's ascent to the Absolute. That 
Absolute will not be " known of the heart " until we acknow- 
ledge that It is " unknown of the intellect " ; and obey the 
Dionysian injunction to " leave the operations of the under- 
standing on one side." The movement of the contemplative 
must be a movement of the whole man : he is to " precipitate 
himself, free and unfettered," into the bosom of Reality. Only 
when he has thus transcended sight and knowledge, can he be 
sure that he has also transcended the world with which they 
are competent to deal, and is in that which surpasses all 
essence and all idea. 

11 This is Love : to fly heavenward, 
To rend, every instant, a hundred veils. 
The first moment, to renounce life ; 
The last step, to fare without feet. 
To regard this world as invisible, 
Not to see what appears to oneself." x 

This acknowledgment of our intellectual ignorance, this 
humble surrender is the entrance into the " Cloud of Unknow- 
ing " : the first step towards mystical knowledge of the Absolute. 
"For Truth and Humility are full true sisters," says Hilton, 
1 Jelalu 'd' Din' " Selected Poems from the Divan," p. 137. 



416 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

" fastened together in love and charity, and there is no distance 
of counsel betwixt them two." x 

" Thou askest me and sayest," says the author of the " Cloud 
of Unknowing," " How shall I think upon Himself and what 
is He? To this I cannot make thee other answer but thus: 
I wot not. 

" For thou hast brought me, with thy question, into that same 
darkness and cloud of unknowing that I would thou wert in 
thyself. For of all other creatures and their works and of God 
Himself a man may have fulhead of knowledge, and well of 
them think ; but of God Himself can no man think, and there- 
fore I will leave all that I can think upon, and choose to my 
love that thing that I cannot think. And why? Because 
He may well be loved, but not thought on. By love he may 
be gotten and holden, but by thought never. . . . Go up to- 
wards that thick Cloud of Unknowing with a sharp dart of 
longing love, and go not thence for anything that befall." 2 

So long, therefore, as the object of the mystic's contem- 
plation is amenable to thought, is something which he can 
" know," he may be quite sure that it is not the Absolute ; but 
only a partial image or symbol of the Absolute. 

To find that final Reality, he must enter into the " Cloud 
of Unknowing " — must pass beyond the plane on which the 
intellect can work. 

"When I say darkness," says this same great mystic, "I 
mean thereby a lack of knowing. And therefore it is not 
called a cloud of the air, but a Cloud of Unknowing, that is 
between thee and thy God." 3 

The business of the contemplative, then, is to enter this 
cloud: the "good dark," as Hilton calls it. The deliberate 
inhibition of thought which takes place in the "orison of 
quiet " is one of the ways in which this entrance is effected : 
intellectual surrender, or " self-naughting," is another. He 
who, by dint of detachment and introversion, enters the 
" nothingness " or " ground of the soul," enters also into the 
" Dark " : a statement which seems simple enough until we 
try to realize what it means. 

* M The Scale of Perfection," bk. iii. cap. xiii. 

a " The Cloud of Unknowing," cap. vi. (B.M. Harl. 674.) 

3 /did., cap. iv. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 417 

" O where," says the bewildered disciple in one of Boehme's 
dialogues, " is this naked Ground of the Soul void of all Self? 
And how shall I come at the hidden centre, where God dwelleth 
and not man ? Tell me plainly, loving Sir, where it is ; and 
how it is to be found of me, and entered into? 

" Master. There where the soul hath slain its own Will and 
willeth no more any Thing as from itself. . . . 

" Disciple. But how shall I comprehend it ? 

"Master. If thou goest about to comprehend it, then it will 
fly away from thee ; but if thou dost surrender thyself wholly up 
to it, then it will abide with thee, and become the Life of thy 
Life, and be natural to thee." J 

The author of the " Cloud of Unknowing " is particularly 
explicit as to the sense of dimness and confusion which over- 
whelms the self when it first enters this Dark ; a proceeding 
which is analogous with that annihilation of thought in the inte- 
rests of passive receptivity which we have studied in the " Quiet." 

" The first time thou dost it," he says of the neophyte's 
first vague steps in contemplation, " thou findest but a dark- 
ness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing — to wit, a dark mist, 
which seemeth to be between thee and the light that thou 
aspirest to — and thou knowest naught saving that thou feelest 
in thy will a certain naked intent unto God, that is, a certain 
imperfect and bare intent (as it showeth at the first sight) 
to come to a thing, without convenient means to come to 
the thing intended. This cloud (howsoever thou work) is 
evermore between thee and thy God, and letteth to thee, that 
thou mayest not see Him clearly by light of understanding 
in thy reason, nor feel Him by sweetness of love in thine 
affection. And therefore shape thyself to abide in this dark- 
ness so long as thou mayest, evermore crying after Him whom 
thou lovest, for if ever thou shalt feel Him or see Him (in 
such sort as He may be seen or felt in this life), it behoveth 
always to be in this cloud and darkness." 2 

From the same century, but from a very different country 
and temperament, comes another testimony as to the supreme 
value of this dark contemplation of the Divine : this absorption, 

1 Boehme, " Three Dialogues of the Supersensual Life," p ft* 

2 " The Cloud of Unknowing," cap. iii. I have inserted the missing phrases from 
Collins's text. 

EE 



418 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

beyond the span of thought or emotion, in the " substance of 
all that Is." It is one of the most vivid and detailed accounts 
of this strange form of consciousness which we possess ; and 
deserves to be compared carefully with the statements of " The 
Cloud of Unknowing," and of St. John of the Cross. We 
owe it to that remarkable personality, the Blessed Angela 
of Foligno, who was converted from a life of worldliness to 
become not only a Christian and a Franciscan, but also a 
Platonist. In it we seem to hear the voice of Plotinus speaking 
from the Vale of Spoleto. . 

" There was a time," she says, " when my soul was exalted 
to behold God with so much clearness that never before had 
I beheld Him so distinctly. But love did I not see here 
so fully, rather did I lose that which I had before and was 
left without love. Afterward did I see Him darkly > and this 
darkness was the greatest blessing that could be imagined, 
and no thought could conceive aught that would equal this. 
. . . And by that blessing (most certain, and including also that 
darkness) have I attained unto all my hope, and inasmuch 
as now I see clearly, I have all that I desired to have or to 
know. Here likewise do I see all Good ; and seeing it, the 
soul cannot think that it will depart from it, or it from the 
Good, or that in future it must ever leave the Good. The 
soul delighteth unspeakably therein, yet it beholdeth naught 
which can be related by the tongue or imagined in the heart. 
It seeth nothing, yet seeth all things, because it beholdeth this 
Good darkly — and the more darkly and secretly the Good 
is seen, the more certain is it, and excellent above all things. 
Wherefore is all other good which can be seen or imagined 
doubtless less than this, because all the rest is darkness. 
And even when the soul seeth the divine power, wisdom, and 
will of God (which I have seen most marvellously at other 
times), it is all less than this most certain Good. Because this 
is the whole, and those other things are but part of the 
whole. Another difference is, that albeit those other things 
are unspeakable yet they do bring great joy which is 
felt even in , the body. But seen thus darkly, the Good 
bringeth no smile upon the lips, no fervour or devotion or 
love into the heart, for the body doth not tremble or become 
moved or distressed as it doth at other times. And the cause 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 419 

thereof is, that the soul seeth, and not the body, which reposeth 
and sleepeth, and the tongue is made dumb and cannot speak. 
. . . Unto this most high power of beholding God ineffably 
through such great darkness was my spirit uplifted but three 
times and no more ; and although I beheld Him countless 
times, and always darkly, yet never in such an high manner 
and through such great darkness. . . . And to me it seemeth that 
I am fixed in the midst of It and that It draweth me unto 
Itself more than anything else the which I ever beheld, or 
any blessing I ever yet received, so there is nothing which can 
be compared unto It." 1 

These words, and indeed the whole idea which lies at the 
bottom of " dark contemplation," will perhaps be better under- 
stood in the light of Baron von HiigePs deeply significant saying : 
" Souls loving God in His Infinite Individuality will necessarily 
love Him beyond their intellectual comprehension of Him ; 
the element of devoted trust, of free self-donation to One 
fully known only through and in such an act, will thus remain 
to man for ever." 2 Hence, the contemplative act, which is 
an act of loving and self-forgetting concentration upon the 
Divine — the outpouring of man's little and finite personality 
towards the Absolute Personality of God — will, in so far as 
it transcends thought, mean darkness for the intellect ; but 
it may mean radiance for the heart. Psychologically, it will 
mean the necessary depletion of the surface-consciousness, the 
stilling of the mechanism of thought, in the interests of another 
centre of consciousness. Since this new centre makes enormous 
demands on the self's stock of vitality its establishment 
means, during the time that it is active, the withdrawal of 
energy from other centres. Thus the "night of thought" 
becomes the strictly logical corollary of the " light of perception." 

No one has expressed this double character of the Divine 
Dark — its " nothingness " for the dissecting knife of reason, 
its supreme fruitfulness for expansive, active love — with so 
delicate an insight as St. John of the Cross. In his work the 
Christian touch of personal rapture vivifies the exact and 
sometimes arid descriptions of the Neoplatonic mystics. A 

1 B. Angelae de Fulginio, " Visionum et Instructionum Liber" (English transla- 
tion, p. 181). 

2 " The Mystical Element of Religion," vol. ii. p. 257. 



420 AN INTRODUCTION TO MYSTICISM 

great poet as well as a great mystic, in his poem on the 
" Obscure Night," he brings to bear on this actual and ineffable 
experience of the introverted soul all the highest powers of 
artistic expression, all the resources of musical rhythm, the 
suggestive qualities of metaphor. 

" Upon an obscure night 
Fevered with Love's anxiety 
(O hapless, happy plight !) 
I went, none seeing me, 
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be. 

By night, secure from sight 
And by a secret stair, disguisedly, 
(O hapless, happy plight !) 
By night, and privily 
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be. 

Blest night of wandering 
In secret, when by none might I be spied, 
Nor I see anything ; 
Without a light to guide 
Save that which in my heart burnt in my side. 

That light did lead me on, 
More surely than the shining of noontide 
Where well I knew that One 
Did for my coming bide ; 
Where He abode might none but He abide. 

O night that didst lead thus, 
O night more lovely than the dawn of light ; 
O night that broughtest us, 
Lover to lover's sight, 
Lover to loved, in marriage of delight ! 

Upon my flowery breast 
Wholly for Him and save Himself for none, 
There did I give sweet rest 
To my beloved one : 
The fanning of the cedars breathed thereon." 1 

Observe in these verses the amazing fusion of personal 
and metaphysical imagery ; each contributing by its suggestive 
qualities to a total effect which conveys to us, we hardly 
know how, the obscure yet flaming rapture of the mystic, 

1 " En una Noche Escura." This translation, by Mr. Arthur Symons, will be 
found in vol. ii. of his Collected Poems. 



INTROVERSION: CONTEMPLATION 421 

the affirmation of his burning love and the accompanying 
negation of his mental darkness and quiet — that " hapless, 
happy plight." All is here : the secrecy of the contemplative's 
true life unseen of other men, his deliberate and active abandon- 
ment of the comfortable house of the senses, the dim, unknown 
plane of being into which his ardent spirit must plunge — a 
" night more lovely than the dawn of light " — the Inward 
Light, the fire of mystic love, which guides his footsteps " more 
surely than the shining of noon-tide : the self-giving ecstasy 
of the consumm